Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Child's Death, and other Unfamiliar Territory

Back in 2002, I had to teach in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Never been there before, so I checked into all the surrounding cemeteries, to see which ones I felt were photo-worthy. Plan in hand, I made the trip.

Back in the pre-cell phone era, I would get myself into trouble during these cemetery excursions into unfamiliar territory. I would take a cab from the hotel to the cemetery, where the driver would drop me off. I'd do this maybe every 6 months so I just couldn't get into the habit of remembering that the return trip is not so easy--try to call a cab to pick you up at a cemetery!

I made some interesting photographs at Lakewood Cemetery, a grandly beautiful memorial park in the suburbs of Minneapolis--about 3 miles from the center of town. Founded in 1871, one of its best monuments was unphotographable during my visit, as a sprinkler was going near it the entire time! However, I did make this one of the scallop shell tombstone, on a child's grave. Beautiful sculpture, pitiful sentiment. I often wonder about taphophiles (tombstone tourists) who happen on something like this, having lost a child themselves. My apologies for waxing philosophic, but as I said above, cemetery travel has caused me to make excursions into unfamiliar territory...

The loss of a loved one is a tragedy unequalled by any other for most people. In the "Handbook of Bereavement" (Cambridge, 2003), author Simon Rubin says "The death of a child is forever." He reached this conclusion after his extensive study of reactions of parents who have suffered the loss of a child. He found that:

"parents of deceased children maintain very close ties with their child - even after 13 years of bereavement - remaining preoccupied with their child and highly invested in the lost relationship, often to the detriment of relationships with surviving members of the family."

Reading Cemetery, Reading, PA
Rubin developed a theory to further understand this phenomena, one that explores "multiple meanings" that children hold for their parents. Not the least of which must relate to parents' belief that their main responsibility is to make their child not die, as comedian Louis C.K. puts it.

One of the most famous stories of a lost child is the Lindbergh kidnapping, which occurred in1932 (see my blog, "Voices in the Cemetery")--Charles Lindbergh's father is actually buried here at Lakewood. Not being blessed with the aviator Lindbergh's directional sense, I temporarity shelved my philosophizing and focused on the more pressing issue of finding my way back to my hotel. I left the cemetery and walked to the nearest mini-mart to call a cab from a pay phone.

I was several miles from my home base (downtown Minneapolis, near the Mary Tyler Moore statue), theoretically within walking distance, but you see, I didn't know exactly where Lakewood was in relation to that point. In my haste and excitement to get to a new photographic location, I had, uh, forgotten my street map. One problem with calling a cab if you don't know precisely where you are, is that its difficult to give the cab dispatcher coherent instructions. But I didn't have to worry about that--not only did the "convenience" store not sell maps, but it had no pay phone and the lone employee spoke broken English! Oh well, cabs get so little business in the burbs, that even if they do understand your directions, they're reluctant to drive all that way to pick you up! So, I was stranded. At this point I was about 3 miles outside Minneapolis with no idea how to get back! I did offer a guy who pulled up in his car ten bucks to drive me to back to town, but he fled.

Long story short, it took me over 3 hours to get back to civilization. My last resort--as it was nightfall--was to hop a bus loaded with migrant workers on its way to St. Paul. Over the years, I've learned to be a bit more careful when planning my excursions into unfamiliar territory!

Hear a great interview with comedian Louis C.K.on NPR.