Here in Germany people tend to their graveyards with tremendous care. They are beautiful places, each grave adorned with beautiful plantings of flowers. In our local graveyard it is rare to see the site empty. There are almost always at least a few people present watering the flowers on the graves they care for.
What a contrast it was then to visit a graveyard in what was once East Berlin. The graveyard was overgrown with weeds and vines. Some gravestones were falling down, virtually no graves seemed cared for. At one end of the graveyard were large family graves with space on the very large stones for the inscription of many names. Oddly, on several of these large stones only one or two names were inscribed – all of people who had died before 1939. Why? Perhaps the families of these dead had died themselves in the war with no one to bury them in their family plot? Perhaps the families were among those who fled during the war or perhaps after when the wall was built? Were they Jews who lost their lives in concentration camps?
We did not find answers to these questions while in Berlin but perhaps no answer was necessary. By its very existence, the overgrown graveyard seemed to give its own answer: “I am the forgotten place of broken dreams, lost fortunes and dashed hopes.” The graveyard felt to me as though it were weeping. It sounds strange perhaps, but I wanted to comfort this lonely graveyard, to wrap it in my arms as if it were a person and to weep with it. I felt sad for the graveyard, for the solace it once promised but no longer could provide – the people who would have longed for this solace lost in the winds of history and in the even greater misfortune that is hatred and war.
Perhaps I am so moved by this graveyard because it appears to witness to all that is broken in our world, to the emptiness and sorrow caused by conflicts, environmental degradation, consumerism, violence, the distractions of too many things to do…
And I wonder… Who will tend to the graveyard of the now? Who will offer it solace and take up its cause? Who will, on behalf of the graveyard of the now, protest against the meaninglessness and lostness of our age? Who will be the one who will plant flowers of hope?
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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.
Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.