Monday, December 15, 2014

Day of Death

My chaplaincy class has a few optional field trips, including “Death in the City,” which was this past Saturday. (A classmate emailed me, “I’m really looking forward to the Day of Death.”) 

We started at the Columbarium, which is an above-ground cemetery, a round, domed building full of “niches,” each of which contains someone’s cremains (except for a couple that are just honorary, like one for Harvey Milk).

The building opened a hundred years ago, and the niches on the lower floors are simple and dignified. All you see for most of them is a metal front plate and the family’s name, or there is a glass front and you can see the urn or other container.

As you ascend to upper floors of the building, it’s more like Dia de los Muertos altars, with photographs and mementoes. One niche even featured a tiny electronic sign flashing the name of the deceased over and over.

Then it was on to the San Francisco National Cemetery, at the Presidio, where we were invited to contemplate our feelings both about death and about the military. Much of training to be a chaplain is about knowing one’s own biases and sensitivities, so that they don’t unconsciously get acted out on those the chaplain hopes to serve.

The vast majority of the gravestones here are identical—simple white marble, with larger and more elaborate monuments here and there.

It was a beautiful day, not raining for the first time in days. 

(Click photos to enlarge.)

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