Friday, December 6, 2013

Running with the Souls of the Dead

One point two miles into my run, I arrive at the Rodin sculpture. Every time I run by it, I wonder how it came to be there. Though I don’t typically stop, Rodin and his beautiful piece of art stay in my mind long after I’ve run by.  

I wonder, who were Elizabeth Musgrave Merrill and her daughter Sally Hicks Croswell, who’s remains lie beneath the gorgeous sculpture of a mother holding her child? How did it come to be that Auguste Rodin would sculpt a gravestone for the Merrill family in Middleburg, Virginia?

The cemetery becomes my own private Musée Rodin, taking me back to such a special place in Paris. I recall trips to the Rodin Garden, and the quiet happiness I have felt there, surrounded by sculptures and manicured hedges and lawns, offering stone solitude in a huge city filled with joie de vivre, the joy of life.  

As I run on through the Middleburg cemetery, as well a respite from a bustling village, the gravestones become beautiful sculptures in their own right. As I run up a small rise, there are Civil War gravestones set in a circle surrounding a monument, there are horses and a dragon, and sculptures of small creatures alongside more traditional headstones, many of which show faded sentiments of loved ones young and old.

I loop through the inside of an iron gated fence and then again along the outside of the fence, beside the lake, always noticing gravestones that I had not seen the week before, completing my quiet ritual as I run along reading the names of the dead.

It doesn’t take religion or a belief in afterlife to feel the souls of the dead. Though some might say feeling the souls of the dead automatically qualifies a person as having such a custom or belief. Perhaps it’s the history that I feel. Perhaps it’s the beauty and quiet of the cemetery. There’s a feeling of comfort here, which makes no conscious sense as the idea of placing bodies in the ground offers no solace to me from a practical standpoint.  

I run alone, and when I enter the cemetery I find myself looking for the familiar graves, of “people” I now know by name. It is a sculpture garden, with each sculpture featuring the soul of a person long gone but able to be honored as I run by. I wonder about the level of respect, or lack thereof, a person shows by running through a cemetery. I’ve come to the conclusion that because it’s a meditation of sorts for me, that hopefully it’s the former.

Just outside the main gate, I turn left and run along a stone wall on Federal Street. On the backside, a row of gravestones are embedded into the wall.  They stand close together, lined up as sentinels facing the church, which was founded in 1847.  Too many gravestones to count, I run by thinking of them as a group, though I don’t know who they were or how the wall and graves have now become interlocked. I run back into the village, back into the world of the living, leaving the Rodin and the Civil War soldiers and the animal sculptures and all of the others, and I feel the peace of knowing that they’ll be waiting for me to visit them again on my next run. 

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