Graveyard shift

This week has gone by so fast, yet last Sunday, or even Monday, seems like it was on the other side of the universe.

Events that were once a supernova of negative energy are now just a small blip, a dim twinkle of light among many, something pleasing to appreciate and admire when a glance is thrown in that direction.

Nevertheless, the future is uncertain, and that can be scary.

When I told someone this week about an opportunity that had seemed to present itself, and my small twinge of anxiety surrounding it, the guy got excited. He gets that way when he is about to give sage advice.

“You know, that’s fear,” he said of my anxiety. Then he told me how he conquers fear.

Find a graveyard, a really old one. Find a really big gravestone that has a description of what the person was like, preferably a firefighter or officer or someone similar who was heroic or otherwise lost their life before his or her time. And then think, what would this person say of your troubles? What advice would this person give you?

“They would tell you that what you fear is so insignificant,” he said. “They would tell you to live your life. You know, you look at their gravestone and think about what they accomplished. But they’re dead now! They’d say, take those risks! Live your life!”


I live close to Mount Auburn Cemetery, so I decided to go there. It’s a big cemetery, so at first I thought the burying ground on the intersection of Mount Auburn and Arlington streets in Watertown was part of it. I went there and soon realized it wasn’t. It must be a family cemetery. A really old one, too. Not many BIG gravestones, other than one tall and proud one for the only Watertown soldier to have fallen in the Battle of Lexington. There were many old slabs from the 1700s, the 1600s and even the 1500s. So old that the typography of the letter “s” looked more like the letter “f”, and abbreviations for some words were unfamiliar (although decipherable).

Back in the summers of late high school through early college, I worked at the local church doing maintenance, including burying people. A backhoe would remove the earth and place it on a pile close to the grave on the morning of, or the day before, the funeral. A concrete box would be lowered in, to house the casket. After the funeral, my supervisor and I would shovel back in the dirt, packing it in as much as possible. Somehow, more often than not, all the dirt impossibly fit back in place.

And here, in this family plot, where there were no concrete blocks, these slabs were commemorating those who had not lived for 300 to 500 years. They were dead. They were no more. They were dust.

But I am not. I am alive. Upon reflection, the anxiety I had was just laughable. It really was insignificant. Had I let it get the better of me, I would have continued to rot in pessimism. Because I shifted my perspective and was able to shrug the anxiety off, I was able to enjoy the rest of the week. And take a risk. And live.


  1. Stan, this is one of the best things you’ve ever written.

  2. That’s a highly generous compliment. Thanks, Ryan.

    I knew that, as my colleague was giving his advice, if what he said was true then it would help me get past an obstacle I’ve been butting up against for a while. And it did.

    I thought of the headline first (I love double entendres), probably the day after I went. And this blog post had been simmering in my head all week.

    My only self-critique of this is I wonder if I really need the first couple of paragraphs. I left them intentionally vague, but as is they seem to be a good jumping-off point for the rest of the story. The cosmic imagery, I feel, is at once intense and accessible to anyone.

  3. i kind of liked the first two paragraphs, actually.

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