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St. Mary’s Cemetery

on November 21, 2009

Tuesday was Kiko Hernandez’s 36th birthday. For the occasion, loved ones gathered at his place, showering him with gifts, flowers and balloons. Like many with a late fall/early winter birthday, his birthday celebration coincided with the approach of Christmas, and so a Christmas tree was placed thoughtfully at the center of the collection of gifts. By all indications, Hernadez’s friends and family threw him a wonderful party—and if Hernandez had been alive to see it, he might have told them so.

But Hernandez passed away in 2007, and after gathering at his grave to wish him a happy birthday, his friends and family had dispersed back to their lives, leaving Hernandez alone once again. By 9 a.m. on Wednesday, no sounds filled the air at St. Mary’s Cemetery, no honorary words could be heard, only the smooth silence of a chilly morning in Rockridge.

A few blocks away, the rush and rancor of a morning commute was in full effect: The cars charging, the drivers speeding ahead (their too-loud radios drown out the noise for the drivers, but on the street it’s inescapable), their impatient honking and shouting, everybody late for something. Crafty suits-and-ties changed lanes in haste, and merged into traffic-like bulls on Opposite Day: unstoppable, until they see red. Lights everywhere were turning on; the city was waking up; and people filled the streets with their freshly-woken worries, everybody pushing for a piece. Commuters with coffee, dreading the daily grind; shopkeepers opening doors, preparing for a long day ahead—they come in all shapes and sizes, with one thing in common, which is endless, ceaseless movement, the constant stirring and shaking of civilization.

But not here.

Here there is silence. Here, at least, there is peace.

Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, somewhere between houses with a million-dollar view and the modest flatlands below, is where we lay our dead. It’s fitting that a cemetery should be near the center of that great divide.

Here there is no gentrification to be seen, no pecking order, no lines of race or class. Maddock and Montgomery, Azevedo and Kirk, Higgins and Hernandez—they all lie together in the afterlife. The old, decaying stones of lost ones long forgotten stand beside gleaming new monuments and the fresh flowers left by those who are still grieving.

A woman walks her lanky Dalmatian; they are the only living creatures in sight. The sound of their footsteps carries through the wind, loud and clear. The woman leads her dog downhill and through the front cemetery gate, leaving the eerie silence behind as they enter a world of noise.


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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