Friday, 2 September 2011

Cemetery musings

Personal and family names
define who we are
© Godric Godricson

Humanity has always been focused on “culture”. Whatever human traits we try to discuss,  we are drawn to describing others in terms borrowed from discussions about  culture. Whether or not we are talking about food, a dress code or music we are often talking about culture. For example, Scottish people are still rich in culture and the people of Wales are rapidly re-finding their own culture and traits as they rapidly move towards independence but is culture the only thing that defines both the quick and the dead?

Some monuments defend
our identity
© Godric Godricson

Well, no, actually culture is only one way that we define ourselves and the people around us. Culture may define who we are as we give ourselves labels that both include and exclude. We may be British and Scottish or British and from Norfolk but those are ‘big’ labels and they contain many people who will also be covered by the label. Instead, as well as being part of a generalised and sometimes vague culture,  we are also very much individuals who are rich in personality and life experience. Each of us have personal and family names that play a large part in our individual creation of identity.

Our first name and family name largely define who we are in a very real way and they are an antidote to the way that an overlay of 'culture' subsumes us into larger groups. The ‘Mc’s and Mac’s’ of Scotland may be part of a naming system prevelent in Scottish culture but  such 'tags' are also held by people who are real individuals. So, as well as being defined by cultural overlays we are also defined by our personal and family name.

Joshua Burroughs
d 1908
bur : Great Cressingham
© Godric Godricson

It is a real pity that when we die, we often loose a well seasoned and peculiar individuality. Instead of being Sam or Mike we become “the departed” or “the dead” and we cease to be an individual as we join the realms of yet another amorphous group. Perhaps there is a culture of the dead as well as there being a “sociology of the dead”? We love the people that we lower into the grave but then we have a tendency to inevitably forget them with the passing of time. More so, we allow Church Authorities to forget the dead and we even allow Authorities to rip away their monuments from them with the passing of time. As the years go, fewer and fewer people remember the dead and the space is re-used without protest. The special identity that we had as an individual has gone as the grass grows and we are clothed, instead, by anonymity.

The goal for the graveyard rabbit is to preserve the names of the dead by recording not only the monuments but also by preserving a uniqueness found in the cemetery. The dead may have their unique rights and we must help them exercise those rights. Whilst sandstone monuments dissolve over time with a subsequent diminution of identity the nature of the cemetery itself must remain in its fully recorded glory.

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