So this weekend I went back home to clean the graves of my ancestors and an aunt who was taken away before she could raise her children properly. It was part of the Qingming Festival where certain East Asian cultures clean the graves of their ancestors, prior to the events of recent years we never had many graves to clean state side, but time moves inexorably forward and all men and women will one day die. I know that many of us hail from the cultures that do celebrate this festival or at least have something similar to maintaining the graves of the hallowed dead. I wish to tell you about what I saw within the serene and grassy hills where the generations of people lay, in eternal rest.
I went to a grave for generations of Chinese immigrants people who for one reason or another left the motherland in search of a better life, some had come to these shores long before the disasters the culminated in the fall of the Qing Dynasty, but as I looked at the dates that the dead were born and many more bore witness to the calamities of the warlord era, the Japanese occupation, and finally the communist take over. Yet for all the decades of woe and devastation they some how found the strength and courage to rebuild their homes upon an unknown foreign shore. Even if they still dreamt of life back in the villages, towns, and cities of their birth the ones who made their final earthly journey to internment in American soil never did abandon their new homes, for by then the homes that they knew had been destroyed if not by the horror of war then by the zeal of the Red Guards.
The tombstones here were generally of red or black stone many with portraits of the deceased with married couples often lying next to each other or with a single grave with a larger tombstone of the couple to tie one spouse to another who died long before who was buried across the Pacific. Everywhere there was human activity with families paying respects and making offerings to their dearly departed to strangers who had never met who start a chat because their ancestors are now new neighbors in death. I saw people offering incense and cleaning the neighboring graves. One because it seems like such a waste to throw all that incense away and second, because even forgotten ancestors deserve to have a clean grave. Perhaps the un-filial bastards will come a few days later only to be shamed by coming to an ancestor’s grave that was cleaned by more filial strangers. Perhaps the dead without decedents to care for their graves will rest more easily in the next world.
Contrast this with Golden Gate National Cemetery where all the tombstones are uniformly white in neat little rows that turns the place into an orchard of graves. Here generations of soldiers who served their nation lay buried with people of all colors intermingled, with the veterans of the American Civil War buried alongside their successors from the First and Second World Wars, and with dead children of soldiers being eternal neighbors with men who never had any of their own. The place was generally devoid of human activity with the silence being the most prominent feature. To be sure there are a few families dispersed here and there cleaning the graves of those ancestors who lay buried with comrades rather than kin.
In both cases I am reminded of why I lack sympathy and empathy for those who wallow in the despair of their own creation or circumstances that they refuse to surmount. When I look upon the orchard of graves left by generations of soldiers who came before, and my ancestors and their new neighbors I am reminded of how all men share the same fate and that it is the manner of our deaths that will ultimately distinguish one from the other. I am also reminded of the legacy that they left behind. In the case of my ancestors and their neighbors I look around at the living, the young, and the old, my family and that of strangers. It took everything but self loathing and self pity for the dead to have been able to lay the foundation for the success of their descendants. I look upon the plain and uniform tombstones of those soldaten who came before and am reminded of my duty to see that the American democratic experiment shall not fail while I still have strength enough to fight, and I am humbled. Their duty is already done, and mine has hardly begun.
We are all heirs to the legacy of those who came before, and while I am not one to ponder philosophical questions, the perhaps the most profound thing I ever asked myself dealt with legacy. I know what their legacy is, but what is my place in that legacy? The answer I came to was that I too will leave behind a legacy of my own and that all I need to be concerned with is my contribution to that legacy; be it for good or for ill, hopefully for good. I will not heap shame upon the legacy of the honored dead by doing nothing but loathe myself or weep eternally for my own failings. I hope that when I am fated to die that among my deeds that emo will not be one of them, nor the do I wish for the destruction of my country and my family to occur while I still draw breath. I do not know what it will amount to ere the end, but I know full well what I do not want it to be.
So what will be your legacy? What do you wish it to be, what do dread that it might become? Do you celebrate Qingming or something similar (i.e. All Souls Day), or are you some effete snob who blows his nose at such superstition? (If so state your identity that I may enter it into the book of grudges that we may both burn in the fires of hell when I remind Saint Peter of your lack of faith.) What does this have to do with anime? Nothing, but it has everything to do with being human and mortal.