a friend has introduced me to Brompton Cemetery last Sunday and i went straight back there on Friday to indulge a little more in this beautiful new discovery. i love cemeteries: getting a glimpse of an area’s tapestry of lives, stories, people. I think they add texture and make visible what can sometimes be easily overlooked: that whatever is now is part of something much bigger that has begun a long, long time ago.
the German word for cemetery means ‘peace yard’ and yet it struck me how many graves on Brompton Cemetery are of men killed in a war – or men with a long military career that haven’t been killed ‘in action’ and therefore are likely to have killed a lot of other men from ‘the other’ side.
i came across the grave of general alexander anderson,1807-1877, who had served in the royal marine light infantry. his grave was decorated with a set of cannonballs of which one was missing, leaving behind an uncomfortable gap. some of them had inscriptions presumably referring to battles – won? at what cost? – such as ‘Beyrout’ and even more uncomfortable, ‘Gaza’. i haven’t yet been able to find out what the royal marine would have done in Gaza over 100 years ago – but it’s clearly part of a battle that’s still going on and continues to fill graveyards with stories of pain, overwhlemedness and powerlessness.
feeling totally overwhelmed and powerless myself about the situation in Palestine i’ve just re-read some pages from ‘Cassandra‘ (by German writer christa wolf) which tries to do exactly that: finding a language for the overwhelming and disempowering experience of war, in her case theTrojan war.
i’ve decided to let her speak on my behalf – and probably lots of others who feel currently speechless about what’s going on in parts of the world:
‘Ten years of war. They had been long enough to entirely forget the question of how the war had started. In the middle of war one only thinks about how it will end. And suspends life. When a lot us do this, we create this empty space within us that the war pours into… When the war starts we can tell, but when does the pre-war start. If there were any rules, one should share these. Carving them into clay, into stone, passing them down…
Between killing and dying is a third choice: life.’
„Zehn Jahre Krieg. Sie waren lang genug, um die Frage, wie der Krieg entstand, vollkommen zu vergessen. Mitten im Krieg denkt man nur, wie er enden wird. Und schiebt das Leben auf. Wenn viele das tun, entsteht in uns der leere Raum, in den der Krieg hineinströmt…Wann der Krieg beginnt, das kann man wissen, aber wann beginnt der Vorkrieg. Falls es da Regeln gäbe, müsste man sie weitersagen. In Ton, in Stein eingraben, überliefern…
Zwischen Töten und Sterben ist ein Drittes: Leben.“