“Not Nihilistic” by Pete Armetta
It’s a common thing around here. Family cemeteries in people’s backyards. Or on their land somewhere. On land that’s been passed down from generation to generation. There are laws on the books nowadays protecting this sacred land from development too. Would you want to build a house there? And the word on the street is that when folks try to sell they run into all sorts of problems.
There’s a particular family cemetery on a twisting, curving and sparsely traveled country road where the sky is big and the panorama magnetizing. Back in the day, I passed by it all the time, when I’d regularly hightail it down this fun country road. I used to look at and wonder about it- cemeteries just do that to me. It’s been awhile since I’d thought about or seen it, but for some odd reason this cemetery has come back into my life lately with a whole new meaning.
Funny how things happen, no?
Across the street from the cemetery is a little church: Saint Andrews Chapel 1895- that’s what it says on a sign in front. It’s a small, white clapboard church and steeple, with green-painted shutters on the windows and a set of ancient, green-painted double doors in front. Quite charming and interesting- pretty too. It sits close to the road and is surrounded by woods, with mountains beyond. Folks say the church isn’t used anymore and I’ve never seen anyone there. And I’ve always been curious about the hows and whys of it.
Just how I roll.
We get older it’s true. Some memories we never get over and they leave wounds and cause strife and make for bad dreams. They’re kind of like a milestone or rite of passage or a segue in life that permanently marks a place and a time. You know how it goes, we all have them. And these memories also can provide inspiration. Or a spark. When at the time we may not even know it.
I have a good friend who grew up down the road from this cemetery, although if you knew him you’d know that he’s light years away now from that childhood and place. Years ago the cemetery was the second part of an important journey for him. At the time this journey was one of those “defining moments”, and it is still; and a lot of goodness has come from it too, much to his chagrin.
He discovered his only way to live.
At least that’s how he tells it.
So my friend tells me that a few years back he was barreling down this particular road in the pouring rain one night, heading toward the cemetery and the church. He heard sirens and saw police lights in his rearview. Being who he is he punched the car up toward eighty miles per hour, and being he grew up on these roads, he knew the twists and turns much better than most. My friend kept that car moving fast on that dark and wet road. When he looked in his rearview he’d left the police way behind. No more lights.
Then he hit.
He misjudged a tight curve right before the cemetery and smashed head on into a big old line of pine trees on the side of the road. The car flipped and rolled.
Then he slipped into black.
A helicopter took my friend to the university hospital thirty miles away. When he woke up he didn’t remember anything about the accident. Except for when he hit. And then woke up. He was pretty banged up but the only thing on his mind was that black.
My friend says he died then.
Today he thinks of the accident quite often, particularly when he’s driving down this road and passes the spot where he hit- the cemetery within view; Saint Andrews Chapel 1895, quiet and alone. As a matter of fact, I just heard this story last night while he and I were lollygagging and bullshitting and goofing around in the gravel parking area beside Saint Andrews. It was pitch black, except for fire we’d built and the big star-filled sky. My friend told me that before the accident he was particularly nihilistic and melancholic about his life overall. And in the years since that night, his interpretation of “the black” has changed.
He told me about his journey in the dark at this church and that his coming out of the black was the beginning. He knows now with absolute certainty he has a PURPOSE in life- there’s a reason and meaning to who he is. He said the way he saw things before he hit was all wrong and that he’s now in his right place and time. He knows that his purpose is to be true to his heart and do right and wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s not nihilistic anymore.