The end of the road


The end of my near-daily runs usually happens at the cemetery. It’s not deliberate — I just happen to live near an old cemetery, so as I turn the corner into my street, there it is. As cemeteries go, it’s pretty small at less than half an acre, maybe less. (I’m terrible at guesstimating property sizes, despite my background as a project developer for a renewable energy company. Give me plats and lots!) Although it’s situated next to a busy, five-lane road, it’s buffered on the north and west by wood fencing that separates it from a row of modest homes, and on the long, southern end by a sturdy brick wall that starts out at about 3′ on one end before gradually rising to over 7′ as it curves along the main road. That brick wall, the lush grass, and pockets of trees that line three sides of the property all somehow manage to absorb much of the traffic noise that might otherwise flood this quiet corner. You can walk right along the brick wall and not realize that just on the other side is a busy thoroughfare.

I’ve always liked cemeteries. When I was in high school in Manila, I’d sometimes forego taking a public jeepney from school to save the fare (a whopping ₱1.00, or 75 centavos if you had exact change because jeepney drivers rarely gave change back if you gave them a whole peso). My hour-long walk home would take me right by an old cemetery near my school, so I would nearly always detour through its narrow alleys. In hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest, safest decision — I was a pretty small girl, and the cemetery was almost always empty. Unlike those in the US, cemeteries in the Philippines generally don’t have rolling hills of grass and vast empty spaces between gravestones. It’s a tiny country of over 100 million people squeezed into a sprawl of thousands of islands that altogether make up a land mass about the size of Arizona. We don’t have room to give every corpse their own little slice of green heaven. So cemeteries are usually chock-a-block of crypts literally stacked one on top of the other. The cemetery near my school had rows of them crammed along stone walls, some piled six or seven crypts high. The wealthier dead had families who could afford to build marble-lined mausoleums protected behind iron gates. Most of the permanent residents of that cemetery, though, came from more modest stock and I guess didn’t mind sharing real estate in such close proximity with complete strangers.

I’m not really sure what I find so fascinating about cemeteries. It’s not morbid curiosity. I like to read the inscriptions on the gravestones, especially the ones with more description than just names and dates. The cemetery near my house has gravestones dating back to the 19th century; some of the dead served in World War I. Some of them died during that war; other gravestones mark those who died in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War. In fact, a remarkable number of the dead in this cemetery died during some of our nation’s armed conflicts, even though this is just a plain old neighborhood cemetery. I imagine there may be more that I’m not aware of, as quite a few gravestones are so old that time has erased their inscriptions.

My actual runs usually end just before I get to the cemetery, so I jump over the low end of the brick wall and then walk across the field towards my house. I always make sure to make wide sweeps around gravestones so that I don’t disturb the dead. I’m somber, but I’m not sad. When I reach the edge of the cemetery and turn into my street, I always look back and give a small salute.