On my last visit to the cemetery, vainly searching for my grandparents’ graves in a chaotic, overcrowded mess in which, in an attempt to honor loved ones, one inevitably tramples on and disturbs somebody else’s peace, I was reading – as does everybody, I suppose – the dates, names, and the short epitaphs selected and carved on the tombstones. The dates simply represent a quick and easy mathematical exercise; with surprising speed, I subtract the lower number from the greater one and the reaction triggered by each conclusion is, at times, a sort of neutral and unquestioning acceptance of older people’s deaths,in the cases of younger people, a slight shock and curiosity of the causes that have led them there, and a short but intense anxiety which I immediately try to drive away when I come up with ages close to those of my parents.
I read the names for two reasons: to check whether I accidentally know the person and to create an idea of the one who lies below, always instinctively believing in the Latin credo nomen omen (the name is a sign or omen), one of the most valuable phrases offered to me unknowingly as a gift by S., another lifelong partner in crimes and adventures, especially during our beautiful and slightly comical childhood.
But, unquestionably, the most interesting part of the tombstone are the descriptive lines chosen and written there, permanently, by the deceased person’s family. The most striking aspect of these lines is that they are entirely uninteresting and formulaic: the beloved father of, the caring husband of, the loving mother of, the dear grandmother of, and so on. I do not remember the exact lines but the description is usually an unimaginative listing of roles and well-performed duties, selected by the person’s family. True, the act of reading a list of a person’s various roles to different people (father of, son of, husband of) conveys the sadness and loss of the surviving relatives and loved ones. Yet, often, these limited lines which futilely attempt to express an entire life inevitably make me think of my close ones, especially my grandparents who lie there as I write. Specifically, this terse description carved in stone, makes me realize the simultaneous closeness, instinctive knowledge and utter mystery of the people closest to us. Yes, in their respective roles, each one was perfect; but, what did they think when they weren’t or aren’t simply a “husband,” “wife,” “father,” “mother,” “grandmother,” or “grandmother?” What kind of untold stories, surpassed or still gnawing dilemmas, dissatisfaction, fantasies, regrets, other – unknown to me – important people, did they hide? Which details are completely absent from such a limited but eternal symbol like the tombstone?
By gradually learning more about myself and realizing that life is composed of fairly balanced doses of hidden and visible elements, expressed thoughts and feelings as much as those shielded from others’ eyes, now, I would really like to know more about them as well. But, in terms of my grandparents, it’s already too late; not everything is possible and timing plays a crucial, determining role in our lives. And, though history is based on facts and favors precision, our most interesting part, a real spider’s web, may be always out of others’ reach, inexpressible and un-sharable with others. Perhaps, that is why we are fundamentally alone, only half-knowable: on the surface, we are whole and mostly dutifully play our roles but, internally fragmented, with one part in one place and another within somebody else, we are something quite distinct from our written history, or the solid but mostly incorrect summary carved on our eternal stone, written as all histories are – by the victors, the survivors.by Kleitia Vaso