The summer before my junior year of high school, my family had the opportunity to travel to Italy. One of the most memorable moments of this trip occurred when we visited the cemetery of the town from which my grandma comes. My mom was working on the genealogy of her family, and wanted to see if the cemetery had any records of her ancestors.
The curator had no records of anyone with our family names. He explained that if no relatives remained in the area, bodies were exhumed and moved underneath the chapel to make room from fresh graves, since Italy has very little extra space. He then took us underneath the chapel to see what was a mass grave. That mass grave is how I think of death; that wall of bones symbolizes the quiet anonymity that will overtake us all eventually.
I came face to face with death's reality again this morning. Five of us on summer staff drove thirty minutes outside of Phoenix to a potter's field to inter three men who had died and whose bodies had gone unclaimed. More than likely they died on the street or in a shelter. This was not an uncommon ceremony; eight different groups rotate overseeing the service to inter those who leave this world with nothing.
The experience was surreal. We were right outside an Air Force Base, so the occasional fighter jet would scream by overhead. We were in the middle of the desert, dust blowing in out faces and small insects biting our legs. To top it off, a chain gang of Maricopa County inmates had the job of handling the casket and lowering it into the ground, while we said the prayer and blessed the casket. (By chain gang, I mean the men were chained together at the ankles and in black and white striped clothes.)
Burying the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy that seems to always get glossed over (along with visiting the imprisoned, which we also checked off). I can certainly see the value in it though. These men had no one to mourn for them, no one to pray for their repose; except us. We may have been the last humans to acknowledge that these men ever lived, and the gravity of that as our duty weighed on me during the ceremony. Some of the graves at the cemetery were actually cared for with flowers or crosses, but most featured only a small round marker stuck in the ground. I cannot say I was sad, but I was depressed, depressed at how quickly death's anonymity would swallow these men up. It has really made me appreciate my faith, that there is hope that we simply will not fade away after death, but will come to new life.
If you do nothing else today, pray for the souls of Wilbur, Arturo, and Edward. Their families and friends are likely unaware these men have passed, unless they have no family. It is a grave and solemn duty to take the place of their loved ones and commend them to God.