I used to think I needed to do something great in my life. At least one big thing for which people would remember me for the next, say, 75 years or so—the equivalent of two or three generations. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. This imposed a lot of pressure and caused me some distress given my ordinary skill set.
The closest I came to fame was writing the history of the Hamilton Farm Bureau for its 75th anniversary. My brother Ward, who worked in the hardware store, got me the job. To my dismay, my name didn’t even appear on the cover, although I was asked to stand and received tepid applause at the 1995 annual meeting of members. There may or may not be a copy of the book sitting in a box in someone’s attic somewhere.
Which brings me to my love of cemeteries.
I love cemeteries. I always have. A cemetery is a wondrously sacred place. As I look at the names on the gravestones and try to reconstruct the family relationships and stories, I feel a profound sense of peace and a deep connection with history. These people walked around where we now walk. Those who made it to adulthood had full heads of hair and smooth skin. They had friends, with whom they were mischievous at times. They stood beside other people to get married, some with enthusiasm and some with resignation or doubts. In quiet moments, they wondered about the future, just as we do. They were real flesh-and-blood people, with full-blown quirks and personalities, just like us and now they’re gone, just as I will be some day.
A Radical Change
My favorite cemetery is Zeeland Cemetery, located on Lincoln Street, in Zeeland. I make a point of wandering through it every time I walk to the library from my house south of Zeeland. According to the website, it was founded in 1880 and contains more than 8,000 burial lots. Some of the earliest gravestones, presumably located within family plots, say nothing more than “Vader” or “Moeder.” In most cases, some sort of family stones are located nearby, but the connection with Vader or Moeder is unclear to the passerby. My take on it is that, first and foremost, the cost of a sizeable stone for everyone was more than the average family could afford. But I also imagine our ancestors were not as caught up in individuality as we are. They were more comfortable seeing themselves as part of the stream of life. They probably didn’t have the luxury of wondering what they could do to earn acclaim.
I’m learning to be like Vader and Moeder. I no longer worry about doing something great. Back in the day when I did worry about it, I was doing my best not to believe in a God, so all I had was my threescore and ten to work with. Now that I find myself in the Kingdom of God, my perspective has radically changed. Now I know that God thinks I’m great no matter how I feel about myself—he delights in me, is the official term. I know that what I do—or, more accurately, who I am—on a day-to-day basis is the important thing. I still try to do my best within each day, but the heat is off. I’m a child of God. No more need to impress.