Saturday, March 16, 2013


I am not by nature a melancholy person, and it is not in a melancholy way that the idea for my tombstone inscription sometimes occurs to me in a flash, as if to summarize some current train of thought or experience. (Although I admit that the image of a cartoon gravestone appearing over my head is a little darker than the more familiar light bulb.)

For example, a recent mild frustration at not being able to devote as much of my new retirement freedom to this web journal as I had anticipated, combined with the cold reality that reaching retirement age is itself a reminder that I am not getting any younger, produced, in my mind’s eye, these words, ornately carved in granite:

But I still have so many opinions…

Years ago, musing on my perennial inability to maintain a neat desk, I imagined this rueful summary-in-stone:

He finally got organized.

The growing issue of aging baby-boomers storing important documents on-line has inspired this very practical idea for a headstone epitaph to be noticed by one’s heirs as they gather mournfully at graveside:

My password is 23XJ44z

Or a response to the undoubtedly increasing risk of accidentally leaving the cell-phone in the casket:


You have noticed by now that, as an epitaph-writer, I’m no poet. But here’s one who is, George MacDonald (1824-1905), whose cautiously hopeful lines allow a grace-filled Lutheran to hedge his bets:

Here lie I, Martin Elginbrod.
Have mercy on my soul, Lord God,
As I would do, were I Lord God,
And thou wert Martin Elginbrod!

But enough whistling past the graveyard. Let me now turn more reflectively into the quiet lane of a country cemetery and invite you to read with me words written on a nearly-eroded headstone with a birth-date of 1799, a death date hard to make out. It is the grave of Caryl’s great-great grandparents, Ole and Beret, who, already elderly, followed their pioneer son, Helge, from Norway to Minnesota in 1858, joining him in the hard work of building this new life; words that tie labor, love, and faith together in a way that reflects how these good people really lived:

In labor as in love allied,
In death they here sleep side by side
Resting in peace the aged twain,
Till Christ shall raise them up again.

When I think about their life, both in the old country and the new, I realize that I don’t know the meaning of the word “labor.” Yet I would be honored to rest one day under those same words with one whose very life is a culmination of the reason for their journey. (Remember – still not melancholy!)

My other current candidate for a personal epitaph came to me almost as a revelation, rising out of the ethereal beauty of the final measures of Arthur Honegger’s great oratorio, “King David.” David, who rose to and fell from great heights, who sinned horribly and was forgiven graciously, utters, as his dying words:

How good it was to live!
I thank thee, Lord, for giving me life.

Nothing melancholy about that.

1 comment:

Keith Homstad said...

One of my favorites is carved on a board in Boot Hill, Tombstone, AZ

Her lies Lester Moore
Six slugs from a forty four
No less, no more.