Thinking about death at Mountain View Cemetery

on December 1, 2016

The sun shines over Mountain View Cemetery. Rays beam down through the trees, split by the branches which rustle and dance in the light breeze on this beautiful morning, and you wonder how many dead people fit in this cemetery.

We have strange ways of counting the dead in this country. Cigarettes kill 480,000 people a year in the United States, certainly some of whom are in this cemetery, but we don’t keep a running tally on the news like we do for a disaster or a terrorist attack. Car crashes claim about 35,000 every year but all of them together don’t get the airtime of a single Prince (upper- or lowercase).

But we do, at least, talk about car crashes and cigarettes. “Buckle up” billboards line the highways and doctors come into the high schools with black lungs extracted from the chest cavities of cadavers (maybe one or two from Mountain View). So yes, we do talk about our mass dead, but what we don’t talk about, ever, what can’t possibly be mentioned in polite company or in any company really, are our mass murders.

Since 2003, according to one study published in the PLoS Medicine online journal, America has murdered at least 500,000 people in Iraq alone. No expert will ever come into your health class to tell you about that. But it’s too beautiful right now to think about things like that, here at 11 a.m. in Mountain View Cemetery on this October morning. Just think about the expertly-chiseled and highly artistic grey marble on the headstones and the obelisk, an actual stone obelisk. You didn’t know people did those anymore.

And oh wow, now you’ve climbed to the top of the hill in Mountain View Cemetery, and look at that spectacular view—you can see all the way to San Francisco and you can see the entire San Francisco Bay and if you drained all the water out of the bay could you fit 500,000 dead bodies in it or would they spill over the banks and into the streets? Yeah, they probably would, you think (spill over), but then again it’s hard to tell because 500,000 is really too big of a number for a human being to realistically conceive of, especially when you’re trying to figure out what 500,000 of something would look like. You’d have to figure out how big the average dead body is and then do some math. But in the end it’s not really a very important question (if they’d fit in the bay) and it’s pretty morbid to be standing here thinking about it. Then again, you’re in a cemetery and if you’re going to think morbid thoughts anywhere, a cemetery is probably a good place to do it.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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