Sunday, May 12, 2019
Mother's Day, 2019
You don't need to speak Spanish, or know anything at all about the life of Ofelia Barrientos Carcamo. That single word, on the coffee cup to the left, says it all: "Mama." We all know what that means, or should: children you love, who love you in return. A lifetime of joy and sacrifice. An unwillingness to let something so sweet and important go.
Which explains the personal items lovingly laid out and preserved, behind glass, at the Municipal Cemetery in Ushaia, Chile, the "End of the World"—that's its nickname—at the southernmost tip of South America. Ordinary things, precious only by association. A pair of spectacles. An oval portrait.
The cemetery is generally a ramshackle place, where crosses sag and graves crumble. A reminder that time does its work on the fiercest affections.
Many graves are still scrupulously maintained, like little rooms, and you can peek in and see personal effects, the coffins made like beds, with lace covers. As if their occupants are only sleeping, and might wake up, and need their glasses, a tradition that goes back to ancient Egypt, where the dead were buried with their personal effects close at hand, for use in the afterlife.
Death only has meaning to the living. We love our mothers, not just because they gave us life, but they gave us the meaning that makes life bearable. A meaning that lingers long after they are gone. And long after we are gone, if we do it right, in the children we leave behind. Even at the cemetery, I couldn't help notice, that life continues, always pushing forward, with or without us. It always goes on, pushing out the dead, even as we cling to them.