Cemeteries As My Walking Theme

The moment I set foot on my Saturday walk, which is on the same route for the third consecutive week but with an increase of two kilometres per week for race training,  I  get an idea what to write about. My personal walking theme this week is Cemeteries.

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Our walks in Hamilton and Dundas Ontario have often taken us near or through cemeteries. Depending on the weather and our moods, we sometime do not pay much attention to them and yet sometimes, we slow down our pace and peruse the engravings on the tombstones, and have picked out something interesting about the history of the place. Invariably we sense the serenity inside the cemetery grounds and we instinctively lower our voices if we are chatting so as not to  disturb the peace.

The first cemetery we walk pass this morning is the Hamilton Cemetery on York Boulevard, opposite to Dundurn Castle. The tombstone in the shape of a cube balancing on its corner always draws my attention. This morning it stands out even more with the carpet of white snow on the ground. My minds takes me back to several years ago when I power-walked the Around The Bay Road Race (30 Km). When I reached this location, I was being greeted by the legendary grim reaper who towered over me urging me to get on with it in a voice that I cannot forget. This cemetery is near the end of the race and the finishing landmark, the Copps Coliseum, is only a couple of  kilometres away. This morning we start out by retracing the route backwards. Instead of feeling close to exhaustion during my race, my body feels ready to embark on my walk today.

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Down Valley Inn Trail and we are walking uphill along Spring Garden Road with the Woodland Cemetery on our right. The winter sun is beckoning to us, and the mist which still lingers around casts an ethereal touch over the cemetery grounds.

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The cemetery is also a landmark for athletes taking part in Around The Bay Road Race, because it is the 25 Km point. I remember the year when I did the race, a person was dressed up sitting there to offer hugs and handshakes to the athletes before they tackle the final hill on the course.

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We walk by the Bayview Cemetery, and the next cemetery to come in sight is the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery with its expansive grounds. Although it is not part of the route of the Road Race, it is often used by athletes during their training to avoid the busy traffic on Plains Road West.

As I walk along the footpath with the graves only few feet from me, I cannot but feel the proximity between the living and the dead. There is nothing eerie or ghoulish about my surrounding. It is just the sense that we are all living through the passage of time, and at some point, the living phase draws to a close and our bodies will rest in the grounds. Rather than mourning the ephemeral nature of life, I feel comforted by the infinity of our existence in forms yet unknown to me. The wreathes and the flowers lying by the graves brightens the grey tombstones. There is a section for the burial of children. There are colourful toys and ribbons and garlands placed by the graves. The wall for the urns facing the sun signals a new day to both the living and the dead. The celebration of life and the mourning of the past co-exist with each other. I am lost in thought, or perhaps in unity with the universe.

I am awakened to the fact that life is going on, because in front of me is the infamous “heartbreak hill” of the training route. We have already turned around at the cemetery and are now heading back. I have written before about walking as a metaphor of life. Walking uphill and downhill is part of the a walker’s trials and tribulations.  My friend MW must have noticed those moments when I am wrapped in thoughts and she has taken a picture of me climbing the hill…

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and reminiscing about life when I have reached the top.

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