This weekend I had to write an essay. Usually I’m good at essays, but this essay had a pretty difficult prompt: is it better to talk about your feelings or to act on them? It was hard for me because I think you should talk about your feelings and act on them – but ‘both’ was not an acceptable essay topic. You had to pick one or the other. Because I was pressed for time, I picked talk about your feelings – and of course, talking about your feelings is good, and there can be consequences for acting on your feelings without talking about them first – but this morning I was really thinking about it, and I may have been wrong.
See, my dad went on a retreat this weekend, and for lunch today we met up with him at the retreat center. The retreat center is also on the same grounds as a cemetery. While everyone was setting up, I could see that I was just getting under people’s feet and not being helpful, so I slipped outside and walked over to it.
There’s this one part of the cemetery that I’m always drawn to – a really tragic, but at the same time very beautiful part. It’s set away from the rest of the cemetery, and there’s a statue in the middle of the grass of Jesus sitting on a bench, with a child on his lap, two children at his feet, and a few feet away, there’s another child running to him. The grave markers around the statues have only one date on them. This part of the cemetery is where all the babies who died on the same day they were born are buried. It’s achingly sad to walk around the graves and read the inscriptions on the marble: ‘Our darling baby – Mom and Dad will see you soon.’ Looking over them, I always want to cry – to plop down on the bench next to Jesus and shed silent tears for the families of these babies. I have no idea who they are. All I know is what the name of their baby was, and the day that baby was born and died.
But I hold back the tears. I hold back the tears because when I look at the statue of Jesus with the children and see the smiles on their stone faces, I know the joy that these babies are experiencing. Yes, their time of this earth was unfairly short. But they are with God – they are so dear to God, and I feel this warmness well up inside of me when I think of how all the children in this cemetery, and every other cemetery, are being held in the arms of God. They are happier right now that they ever could have been on this planet. It’s a beautiful thing – a tragically beautiful thing.
One of the grave markers had a quote from Helen Keller on it that really struck me: “The most precious things in life cannot be seen or even touched, but only felt with the heart.”
As I walked back to the retreat center, my high heels clicking on the uneven road, I thought about why I’d walked over the the cemetery. I had a feeling – a deep feeling, a strong pull – to walk over there and look at the statues. To read the grave markers. To take a minute and remember what’s precious and what matters in life. To commiserate with strangers. Yeah, sometimes acting on your feelings doesn’t end well. But other times, you do something on a whim, because you feel like it, and you experience something you didn’t before. You realize something poignant and meaningful. You realize that the most precious things in life cannot be seen or even touched, but only felt with the heart.
And you think that maybe you wrote the wrong essay. Maybe acting on your feelings takes you places that you wouldn’t have gone if you’d talked it out logically before hand. And maybe it takes an experience in a cemetery for you to understand that.