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Elegy Found in a Seattle Churchyard

A friend told me about this, but I thought I’d go see for myself. It’s a bench above a grave in Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetary. It’s just about 20 yards above the graves of Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee. In this age of vapid celebrity, those graves still receive a constant flow of visitors immersed in vanity. The remains of these celluloid heroes, these men whose life’s work was mere pretending, still have tokens, incense, flowers and other offerings heaped upon them. It’s as if the people who come, not knowing these men in life, seek a deeper unknowing of them in death. It’s not about who they were but who their long trail of mourners were not.

It seems to me that the hundreds of millions now addicted to “celebrity” are addicted to a heroin of the soul. Like heroin, “celebrity” must be taken in ever increasing doses to fill a hole in the user’s soul. And just like heroin, “celebrity” doesn’t fill anything but only increases the emptiness. Which, of course, only increases the need and requires ever larger doses of the illusion; of the shrieking unquiet voices.

Standing above the Lee graves you can watch their worshipers come and go. They leave their tokens and then pose in groups beside the stones for one last photograph of their brush with dead celebrity.

This grave, on a rise above, is quieter but bears a simple poem on the sides of the bench as you walk around it. There’s no name on the bench itself. That marker is small and off to the side a yard or two. The bench itself is not a monument to vanity, but a simple gift left behind for any who may chance upon it.

If you like you can sit down and rest for a while on the poem cut into the stone. It’s in sun and shade; a pleasant spot to watch the clouds scud across the sound and shred themselves into rain and vapor on the tops of the mountains to the west and to the east.

You might even bring a book and, opening it to a remembered passage, read,

…. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

An elaborate thought and true enough. But somehow, in this place, the simpler poem on which you rest seems better and more apt even as, below you, the still living fans of Bruce and Brandon Lee pull up in their cars, leave their offerings, and drive away.

“West lies the Sound. South a great tree.
North is the university.
East the mighty Cascades run free.
All these places were loved by me.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • OneGuy January 25, 2019, 1:19 PM

    On an old 1800’s grave stone somewhere in New England was the epitaph “I told you I was sick.”

  • Schill McGuffin January 25, 2019, 2:57 PM

    Not sure I could in good faith call Bruce Lee’s life work mere pretending, in spite of getting such wealth as he lived to enjoy by being a celluloid hero.

  • Phil in Englewood January 25, 2019, 3:21 PM

    Makes me think of all the places loved by me. There have been some wonderful ones – northern Virginia when it was a small country town… Old Florida cow fields, walking back to fish in the lake, my uncle’s 12′ plywood boat, in was empty, rural Clearwater… Sarasota when it was a small town when many businesses closed for the summer and we rode bikes for miles down US41 in the evening with no traffic…
    Maybe the bumper sticker should be “He who dies with the most places loved, wins…”

  • PA Cat January 25, 2019, 7:45 PM

    As I look back on the past few decades, I find the second line of the inscription unutterably sad. My university lies due east of my house (only two miles; would that it were two thousand), but it is no longer respected by me any longer, let alone loved. I am glad, though, that the writer of the inscription escaped the present disillusion and loss.

  • rabbit tobacco January 26, 2019, 1:08 PM

    The sky begins at the ground

  • Elmo January 27, 2019, 4:35 AM

    A state building in Sacramento has “Bring me men to match my mountains” inscribed on it. Unfortunately, most of those men have since moved out of state.

  • Mark Carpoff January 27, 2019, 5:48 AM

    It’s like this, my 3 almost 4 year old grandson was talking to me as I sat in a chair minutes before leaving for work. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying. I just enjoyed watching him try. His facial expression would ever so slightly tense a frustration as if he new his words weren’t conveying. Or perhaps he wondered why I was looking at him with such glee. Either way it gave me much joy and warmth in my soul. Not sure what I’m getting at. Maybe you don’t need to go very far to find inner warmth. It’s North , South , East and West and if you just sit a minute it may come to you.