Exploring cemeteries has long been a favorite pasttime. Recently I chose a blustery wintry day in early Spring to walk to Wolvercote Cemetery, north of Oxford, to visit the grave of one of the greatest imaginative storytellers of the 20th century – J. R. R. Tolkien. I savour these moments so much, however, that I only went to his grave after exploring the rest of the cemetery for over an hour, building up the suspense! Seeing the graves of children along the way, decorated with their toys and cards from their parents, is always so touching. I cannot fathom the sadness those families must have felt and will always feel. Oxford scholars, priests, rabbis, mothers, and fathers – all are represented at Wolvercote. Even a minister from Kentucky with a Cherokee motto on his tombstone! The grave of Tolkien and his wife was worth the wait – especially because of the copies of his books and notes and tokens left by his readers. Such an ordinary British grave in an ordinary British cemetery. That speaks volumes.
Another thing has struck me about Oxford’s cemeteries, and it is not at all positive. There are far too many vandalized graves here for such an affluent community. Rose Hill Cemetery, just east of Oxford, is no different. What possesses the living to destroy the houses of the dead? I have long been a believer that the callousness of those who would destroy graves for no reason is not far removed from the hatred and reckless destruction that causes others to take the lives of of living human beings for no reason.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
“It’s a dangerous business…going out your door….You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954