This Sunday morning past, I had occasion to walk past Moravian Cemetery here on Staten Island. When I was a kid growing up in New Dorp, the cemetery was where we used to "hang out" and get up to all sorts of mischief, because in those days, the cemetery was a relatively isolated place, far from witnesses, and with easy access to the wooded parts of Todt and Lighthouse Hills, the perfect place to escape when caught.
Now that I'm older and conscious of my mortality, I've come to the realization that the cemetery is a beautiful place. Despite the headstones and mausoleums (if you're a fan of such things, take a stroll through the cemetery and count just how many prominent and famous people are buried here -- it will amaze you -- and the Cemetery actually offers a tour of the grounds to the public) the grounds of Moravian Cemetery are more like a garden, or a public park. Sometimes, you can forget that you are on sacred ground, and if you're not careful, you can imagine yourself having been transported back in time, like you might be wandering the private reserve of some European Monarch.
It will sound very strange to you, but to my mind, this cemetery is simply gorgeous. The landscaping is meticulous. The flora is wonderful. If you have to spend Eternity somewhere, I can think of few better places. It's almost like the Elysian fields. The people who maintain Moravian Cemetery obviously consider it a labor of love.
Anyways, there I was, walking down Richmond Road past the cemetery, and I had just happened to look through the fence for a second, when I saw it. There, on a tombstone, a date which sticks so vividly in our memories like a piece of jagged glass:
September 11th, 2001.
And then you notice something else; the next three headstones have the same date carved on them. You walk a little further, and there's two more. Further still, and there's another five.
I have no idea how many victims of September 11th are buried in Moravian Cemetery, and frankly, I don't really want to know. Nine years on it still hurts, sometimes, especially when it's so vividly still before you, carved into polished granite. Two-hundred and seventy one Staten Islanders lost that day.
It gets you to thinking about a lot of things. The first thought is that I should feel like a gigantic shitheel; we teens used to hop the fence into the cemetery to smoke cigarettes and drink beer far from prying eyes, which now seems like a thoughtless and unforgivable sacrilege. Of course, this is soon followed by a sense of certainty: one day, this will be you, buried beneath the earth, with one of those shiny stones to mark your final location.
I'm sorry that I was such a beastly swine as teenager, and that so much of my childhood stupidity took place in such an inappropriate place.
I'm going to be buried here, if they'll let me. I'd like to buy a plot, close to the ancestral home (well, ancestral since 1980, anyway), right in the middle of the New Dorp that I love so much. And perhaps, one day, someone else will be walking along Richmond Road, glance through the fence, and see my stone, which will probably read "Here lies The Lunatic -- don't you dare leave your beer bottles here..."
(Really, click through the cemetery's website, and just take a gander at how awesomely beautiful it, and Staten Island, really is).