Remembrance at Père-Lachaise
2020 has been a very strange year. In the wake of the corona virus, it feels like the grim reaper has been closer than usual. Today is the day of remembering the dead. I recently visited a cemetery in my home town, where I found some structures that reminded me of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
A few years ago, I was walking across Père-Lachaise on a sunny autumn day. Of course, Père-Lachaise is a well-known spot for tourists visiting the graves of Jim Morrison, Chopin and others. But it covers a large area and there are lots of imposing tombs.
One of my favorites is the family grave of François-Vincent Raspail, featuring a hooded figure. The tomb gained extra recognition when it was used on the cover of the 1987 album Within the Realm of a Dying Sun by Dead Can Dance. It’s not exactly hidden, near the roundabout Casimir Perier, but easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.
The park in itself is very beautiful and worth a stroll, especially during autumn. The high rise at Avenue Feuillant offers views all the way to Notre Dame, Montparnasse tower and the Eiffel tower.
Mark Twain was here in 1867 and described it like this in his book The Innocents Abroad published two years later:
“One of our pleasantest visits was to Pere la Chaise, the national burying-ground of France, the honored resting-place of some of her greatest and best children, the last home of scores of illustrious men and women who were born to no titles, but achieved fame by their own energy and their own genius. It is a solemn city of winding streets and of miniature marble temples and mansions of the dead gleaming white from out a wilderness of foliage and fresh flowers. Not every city is so well peopled as this, or has so ample an area within its walls. Few palaces exist in any city that are so exquisite in design, so rich in art, so costly in material, so graceful, so beautiful.”
–Mark Twain (1867)
While walking along the lanes, surrounded by stone and ashes, some may feel a sense of dread, or even impending doom. The thought of mortality can be a heavy burden to bear. But I prefer to see it in another light. In the words of Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
— Steve Jobs (2005)
Focus on the truly important.