The richest place on earth is not a bank vault or a gold mine or a collector’s stash of priceless art. I found it today, in an unexpected place.
When Greg and I needed to make a trip south into Arkansas, we seized the opportunity to return to Joplin on country roads. There was a reason we headed into the “boonies”. I wanted to stop at an old cemetery, and walk among the gravestones.
Some people are creeped out by cemeteries. They are, after all, the final resting place for the bodies of loved ones. Their souls are free however and not attached to these places. I find cemeteries fascinating, full of information and stories.
Myles Munroe shares a great perspective about graveyards. He wrote:
“The graveyard is the richest place on the surface of the earth because there you will see the books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted.”
I’ve been working on my family tree this past year, alternating back and forth between my paternal and maternal lines. Greg has been doing the same. I have the advantage of ancestors buried in cemeteries within 90 minutes of Joplin.
We altered our trip home slightly this afternoon so that I could visit Concord Cemetery in Barry County. This isolated spot is deep in the country, located on top of a hill surrounded by woods. I visited Concord in 1994 with an aunt, or I would never have known about this remote cemetery. Greg and I returned to this small graveyard the next year with two of our kids. On the way home we were involved in a serious car accident that altered my life.
Thankfully I have at last healed from the injuries and chronic pain that the accident caused. However, perhaps because of the negative association with the accident, I never returned to Concord Cemetery, until today.
It appears as it did in 1995…beautiful and lonely, with a restless wind that makes the surrounding trees sway and sigh. Sounds and movements beneath the trees draw my eyes repeatedly but I never see anyone or anything there.
My knowledge about my family has broadened since my last trip to Concord. I remembered where my family members are buried, however I wanted to search for gravestones with other surnames connected to my paternal lines. We decided to walk the entire cemetery, row by row.
With temperatures in the 50s and late afternoon sunshine slanting through the trees, walk it we did.
As it turned out, all my ancestors lay grouped together in the oldest part of the cemetery. It was interesting, however, to walk among the stones, reading names and birth/death dates. I remembered the quote about life being lived in the dash between those two dates. So many stories, celebrations, challenges and sorrows represented by a small horizontal line. Rather than feeling sad or morbid about that symbolic – , it made me thoughtful.
I found my people…Lauderdales, Antles and Joneses. In this old resting place I have great-great and great-great-great grandparents. Standing before their tombstones I recall fragments of their stories and long to know more. What brought them to Barry and McDonald Counties in Missouri? Why did they say “Here we will build our lives”? Did their spirits sense my presence and my questions, drawing them to surround me?
We had time to stop by a second family cemetery near the tiny town of Rocky Comfort, in McDonald County. There we walked about a third of this larger graveyard. I quickly located my Lauderdale grandparents, Aunt Roxie, Aunt Glenda and cousin Jeffrey. My dad’s baby sister is buried near her parents. Little Margaret‘s tombstone reminded me that although her life was brief, it had a lasting impact on my father’s family.
Using information from my genealogy research, I located Hills, Kirks, Johnsons and Stipps. These are connected to my family lines. I know the Montgomery branch has a place on my tree as well. I’m still researching that line, which originated from Scotland.
As the shadows grew longer and the wind colder, we slowly moved back to the car. I thought about the words of Myles Munroe. Did any of my ancestors die with their songs still within them? Did they have ideas that they never developed? Dreams that did not materialize?
Beyond the richness of the cemetery, the land of unrealized potential, came a chorus of voices borne on the wind. Hundreds joined my family members, encouraging me onward.
“Enjoy it all. Seize this day…and the next one…and the next one. Don’t fritter life away, caught in regrets or should haves. Go for it.”
What a great cloud of witnesses. And what a powerful reminder to live life, that dash, to the fullest. This is the richest place on earth, indeed. My family, I will be back, to learn more.