Make Life a Mythic Journey
Earlier this month, my wife and I decided it was time to head up to Vermont to see the fall foliage. It had been ten years since our last trip. The foliage was at its peak, but for the first three days the weather was gloomy and glowering, perhaps shedding tears at the parting season. While there, we watched the first Presidential debate debacle, where President Obama was totally ineffective in countering the new, left-of-center Mitt Romney who showed up disguised as Merlin the Magician and seemed to cast a spell over him. What is a liberal Democrat to do after such a depressing event that is matched by the weather? What better trip when seeking hope from a symbolic death than to visit Hope Cemetery in nearby Barre.
Hope Cemetery was given a star, the highest rating under “must see” places in our guidebook. Among the over 6,000 memorials there are replicas of the pieta, a soccer ball, a biplane, a racing car, and a truck. How could we resist given our state of mind? We discovered that the cemetery is inhabited by generations of Italian stonemasons with graves dating back to the late 1800’s. The stonemasons were brought in from Italy to work on the marble from the nearby Rock of Ages quarry. Consequently, many of the monuments were carved by these expert craftsmen and are noteworthy for the artistry they display. However, my wife and I discovered a deeper message in what the guidebook said would be “whimsical” decorations. Instead, they were statements by those resting beneath of what was meaningful in their lives. It was yet another striking example of Jung’s tension of opposites. Here one finds in death the meaning those found in their lives.
I thought: What epitaph would I write on my tombstone? Yeats, my favorite poet, memorably ended his poem, “Under Ben Bulben,” the mountain overlooking the cemetery where he is buried, with the following that is the epitaph on his gravestone:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
Then I recalled that I, too, had written an epitaph that was published in my college’s 40th anniversary reunion class book in 2002. What did I write? Here it is:
Here are my
these rough symbols
on which I rest
KNOW – LOVE
Did I still mean it ten years later? Was this what I wanted to say about my life? Those years have been filled with my own Jungian journey. Nevertheless, the message now seems prophetic of where I’d find myself after writing and publishing my memoirs, Think Jung! How I Found Meaning in My Life. Unlike Jung, who at the end of his own autobiography sadly admitted that he was mystified by love, I concluded my book with a full-throated endorsement of the importance of love. It is, and was for me, the healing balm at the end of all that Jung revealed to me. He let me “KNOW” and that let me “LOVE.”
So, visiting a cemetery is not a descent into the land of death, or, if it is, it serves to allow you to re-embrace your life. It can thus be a form of resurrection. What would you write as your epitaph? I asked my class this past week and now I ask you. Would it allow you to find the meaning in your life? Would it serve as a form of resurrection? Of course, I was also happy to see a similar resurrection in President Obama this week in the 2nd Presidential debate. And miraculously, the next day after our visit with the dead, the skies opened up over Vermont revealing the brilliant fall colors in all their glory.
Paul Marshall Wortman
October 18, 2012