The Lights from Pointless Hill

I’m trying to walk a bit more. I resolved to this in the New Year but it’s definitely not a New Year’s Resolution. I don’t go in for that kind of thing. I walk quite a bit but it’s not enough. In fairness, I could walk from here to Timbuktu every day and it still wouldn’t be enough. But a little more can’t hurt so I try to get down to the lake with my podcasts and my bulky but Bluetooth-enabled headphones and amble around it a few times.

Friday evening was the start of our brand new bank holiday, in honour of St. Brigid, who seems to have been pretty cool. She got me a day off, anyway, so that’s quite a positive start to her credentials. But, yes, Friday afternoon was the start of all that and the weather was very pleasant and the sky was still bright and offering a clear portent of the Springtime to come (and all that poetic stuff). So I decided to take a stroll, a constitutional, a turn around the lake, to kick off the non-existent long weekend festivities.

You can walk right around the lake. There’s a good path and two bridges and, oh, I just realised you don’t walk right around the lake, you cross a bridge over part of it. But that’s not pertinent so you’ll excuse the mistake. I know you will. You’re always kind. Jesus, where was I? Oh yes, you can walk around the lake (except you can’t) in a simple circumference or… or…, we’re getting towards the point now, you can cut off to the left and go around by the little playground and up the steep hill and re-join the circuitous lake path right where you left it. It’s effectively a pointless hill. A pointless exercise in terms of getting from A to B but a useful addition to the aerobic exercise element which is, after all, the main point of the walk.

Here's the thing.

When you’re walking up the pointless hill, just past the kiddies playground, and just before the lake comes back into view below you, you can look across the way and see the new cemetery on the other hill. The new cemetery is not new, it’s just that the old cemetery is considerably older than it so that’s why it’s called what it is.

Looking over at the new cemetery on a bank holiday weekend Friday evening, two thoughts occurred almost simultaneously. The first was that were a surprising number of little lights flickering on the gravestones. The second was that it is very likely that I will end up over there some day.

Let’s parse that second part first.

Although it feels like about seven years, I have been in this little town for over twenty-five years now and I’m happy to say it is my home. Although you can never tell what will happen and what boomerang the fates might chuck at you along the way, it does not seem over confident to predict that I am going nowhere else at this stage. I will probably end up being driven up the main street, while shopkeepers with that old sense of tradition draw their blinds, close their shop door, and dim their lights. A neat turn at ‘The Irish House’ and then it’s a straight run out to the cemetery. Not too fast though, many of the nice people walking behind are no spring chickens either.

I’ll be planted in the latest row of the new cemetery and that’ll be okay. They’ve been working back from the main road since they started and they’re a good bit in now. Hopefully, they’ll be a bit further in before I arrive there. Oh, I could get cremated like Una and Penelope and Michael did. There are a lot of pluses to that. But it’s a bit of a trek down to Limerick to the Crematorium and there isn’t really a top spot for a cup of tea on the way (not that I’ll be bothered). I think I’ll just settle for being carted up the road and eased into the ground there. That way, you could be back in town, half an hour later, for some soup and sandwiches and a nice chat. Not too many tears. I’ll have had a good run, whatever happens. Hell, even if I went out in the garden right now and was hit by a frozen turd from a passing Airbus, I’d have had a fair innings. So, yes, vegetable is fine and a toasted ham and cheese thank you very much. Maybe even a glass of Guinness. Push the boat out.

The lights are a bit strange. There’s just so many of them. It almost feels like it’s a concerted effort on the part of some group or collective. The ‘Light up the Cemetery Brigade’ or something. But, no, I don’t think it’s that. It’s just people coming by and putting a little battery-powered night light thingy on the grave of their loved ones. Perhaps they are aware of the rather striking twinkly effect that all these little lights cause, up on pointless hill across the way. Perhaps it’s just a whole load of tiny individual gestures, tumbling together to make something nice.

Either way, there is one aspect of the little lights on the graves that stands out pretty clearly. The greatest concentration of lights is on the newer plots and the number of lights gets mathematically fewer and fewer as the eye travels up the older graves closer to the main road. There are lots of lights at the new end. One quarter of the way from the new end, there are only one or two lights here and there. After halfway, there are no lights at all.

It tends to remind me of that old saying about how you die twice, the second time when your name is spoken for the last time. Putting a light on somebody’s grave could become a bit of responsibility. Even if you do it faithfully and true for all of your life, when you die the light does too. And who will light one for you?

Standing on the pointless hill on Friday evening, as the last of the light finally slipped from the sky and Spring suddenly seemed a bit further away again, I came to a small conclusion and reminded myself of how I generally feel about such things.

Somebody will plant me somewhere when the time comes. Somebody may light a light or two. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am here now. What matters is what I do with that. Can I do a bit of good before the shopkeeper finally closes his blind for me?

I can sure as hell try.

Now… about this bank holiday…


Fles said...

A bit of an aside, and hopefully I'm a good way from being concerned about this yet, but what I've always fancied is a natural burial (after everything that can be harvested for transplant or medical research has been extracted), just so I can be re-absorbed back into the world as swiftly as possible. There's more information about it here, in case it might be of any interest:

john Mee said...

When the time comes Ken, and if you go before me. With your permission, I will light a light for you in that final place. That way, whenever I walk on top of pointless hill, I’ll be able to look down and say, there’s Ken down there.

Jim Murdoch said...

I should begin with an apology. I hadn't realised it hd been so long since I visited your blog. (Actually i mistyped that as "our blog" and nearly let it stand.) I wish I had a decent reason or even a half-decent excuse but the simple fact is these days I tend to potter away at whatever's in front of my face and the next thing I know a month has passed. My life is nothing but backlogs which, Carrie tells me, in America are good things, more like stockpiles.

So, walking and death this week. I hardy ever go for walks anymore. As a kid, especially as a teenager, I went for walks constantly, for hours and hours and miles and miles. These days the only time I go for a walk it's to the communal recycle bins since the Council confiscated our blue bins because none of our neighbours could figure out how to use them properly; about an hour there and back. I enjoy the walk. I usually set off about 5am and relish the solitude. Walking is best appreciated alone, don't you think?

As for death, well, yes, it comes to us all but my parents never romantiscised it. I woukd be happy to be cremated in the early hours of the morning with no one present but I won't impose restrictions on my daughter since she'll be the one left, no doubt, to sort out all that. I've only ever visited someone's grave once. No one I knew, the mother of someone I thought of as a friend. It was an awful experience and not one I would wish on any of my kin. Better they remember me as the grumpy ol' sod I am than stand sniffling over a lump of expensive slate or granite or, perish the thought, marble.