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The traffic circle of life

A year ago the cemetery and funeral home near my house installed an electronic sign on its  grounds that flashes advertisements and messages.

Beyond the field of headstones, clearly visible from the street, one cannot ignore the kaleidoscopic, blinking missive that seems to shout: "Direct Cremation or Placement for as low as $695," or my favorite, "Preplan Now."

At times I find it unsettling to drive by a graveyard that exclaims: "Happy New Year!"

This cemetery, but not the sign, is visible from my house — a long, straight, quarter-mile block away. I’m a cemetery lover, not squeamish about visiting and enjoying the grounds, which are lush and lovely if a bit artificial, as eternal resting places conceived by man often are.

There’s a clock tower on campus that chimes the hour with familiar tunes. A memorial rose garden near the mausoleum sweetens the air on warm days. One can have their ashes scattered in the rose garden for $295, which in the scheme of things seems like a steal. I walk the property as much as I can; it’s a pretty, contemplative place to exercise, obviously without the bustle of a public park.

On the way to my life, I drive right past the cemetery. The somberly dressed crowds frequently gathered to inter lost loved ones, although not necessarily sad, always affect me. If I pause to think about my neighbors engaged in death rituals, I feel compassion but recognize that it’s just not my turn — to die, or to experience loss and grief — aware more and more that it’s just a matter of time before it is my turn. Wouldn’t that be effective for the sign: "You’re Next."

One side of the memorial park borders a traffic circle, and over time this loop flanking the cemetery has expanded in my mind and come to symbolize more than it probably should. I recognize that life is more than what we perceive with our five senses. This traffic-regulating device is actually the circle of life: take the road to the left and you’ll hit the post office, or travel another block to the library. Orbit around, and the route will lead you to Donut Country. Past the cemetery there’s an elementary school and a hospital. On the hospital grounds resides a labyrinth — an ancient spiritual or meditative tool.

Walking, according to St. Augustine, solves it; a perfectly plausible remedy for what ails you in my book, as well.

Recently I took a break from weeding and watering my front yard long enough to chat with my next-door neighbor who was tinkering on his truck.

“I know you told me this before,” I said, “but where do you work?”

He paused and wiped his hands on a grimy rag. “I’m a gravedigger,” he grinned, tossing his head in the direction of the cemetery. “Right up there.”

“It’s just a job,” he insists when pressed with questions. Sure, like it’s just a traffic circle, just a sign, just a cemetery.

— Sonia Findley lives in Medford.