The historical cemetery of St. Joseph's drew her like the stories of back home she had learned during summer holiday visits with her mother's family. She liked this little cemetery that lay hidden in behind the Catholic high school, where it held on to a past that seemed almost irrelevant now.
Driving carefully through the parking lot of Our Lady of Lourdes in order to reach a parking spot close to the cemetery, she yielded to students leaving classes, their uniforms dressed down as soon as they stepped over the threshold into freedom. Waiting patiently for clear passage, she pondered the need for Catholic high school girls to hike up their skirts as if in defiance, even on a crisp October day.
Finding a space near the edge of the wire fence that enclosed the side, she was struck as always by the small worn down stone cross that stood not two feet from her. A faded name was all that was left of a life lived she knew not how. The little white headstone leaning into the chain-link fence, as if it was contemplating a way to slip out of the garden, overwhelmed her with pity every time she saw it.
A row of cast-iron crosses marking the graves of Sisters who served at the hospital in the first half of the turmoil-ridden twentieth century came upon her like black lace ribbon. The crosses bore nothing but the cloistered name and the date of passing of each Sister that had lived and worked in the community. When she contemplated their names, it occurred to her that some of them could have been immigrants, like her mother, leaving what is familiar and giving their heart and soul to their new country. Would they too have yearned for what they left behind, or would they have been grateful for a fresh start?
Walking along slowly, she passed a row of chunky white stone crosses that stood low against the ground, their fronts exposed as if to absorb whatever heat the fierce sun could send through the cold blast of air that had hung over Southern Ontario during these early days of october.
Overhead a V of geese wended its swift way towards the south.
She was reminded of the rows upon rows of white crosses against green grass that she had seen when her Auntie had taken her to Dieppe in France. There she had stood in front of the stone statue that honoured Canada's contribution to the Liberation of Europe after the Second World War,and she had sung a proud 'O Canada,' her little body erect, her heart aching for the familiarity of home, which she wanted everyone to understand was Canada and not Belgium.
Auntie had been so overcome that she had given her John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields with the Flemish and English text side by side. She had proudly read out the poem in English after Auntie read it in Flemish.
“It wasn't the same war,” Auntie had said, “but for many people it just felt like a continuation of it.”
Walking through this old cemetery now, she felt as if she were being pulled down the grass covered lane that stretched in between tall cypresses, which came to rest at the white figure of a crucified Christ upon a black cross. How immaculately kept the statue was while gravestones all around were succumbing to the ravages of time. In behind the cross, a tall pine tree with its sweep of outstretched branches magnified the invitation of the beckoning embrace.
Finding a soft spot in the grass, underneath the droop of a willow, she sat down and leaned back heavily against its trunk. It seemed incongruous that this humble and broken figure had inspired the rise of a civilization that was capable of great compassion, yet could also be so devastatingly destructive.
She got up eventually, driven by a need to get warm, and walked back to her car, by the little stray gravestone, to a parking lot that lay deserted.