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Eternal Sadness

One day a couple weeks ago I was in St. Pete and went to see if the bald eagles at Palm Cemetery were still around.  When I was at Shawshank I'd hop on the bike (the one-horsepower variety) and cruise the bicycle path that runs all the way around this part of the peninsula.  I spotted some people taking pictures of a tree at the cemetery and pulled over to see that there were bald eagles nesting.  

Today, I saw nothing of the eagles or the nest.  Right next to the Palm Cemetery, across a wire fence, is the Lincoln Cemetery.  The latter is smaller, not as well taken care of like Palms.  In fact, compared side-by-side the difference is astounding.    

The manicured landscape of Palms gives way to the weedy scrub of Lincoln.  Broken limbs from various trees and bushes lie strewn about even making it difficult to drive the well-worn pathways.  Palms is the white and Jewish resting place; folks with money - Lincoln is the old black cemetery.  In fact, according to a sign at the entrance, this acreage of poverty contains untold thousands of unmarked graves.  

Like the hand-carved stone above, many of the grave markers and remembrances of the Lincoln dead is handmade.  It is a startling indication of the economy of black people in old Florida.  The place is so run down it has received recent notoriety as a personal cleanup project for a young high school girl.  

I took the path next to the nicely mowed and watered Palms Cemetery and after finding no eagles I focused more on the surrounding cemetery.  I saw something in the corner of my eye and stopped the Pathfinder.  Not far from the fence, almost by itself, I saw something that in a way took my breath away.  

Like a warrior mount waiting for its fallen soldier, a rocking horse stands vigil.  Faded paint and rotting wisps of rope mane and tail -  dulled, haggard, dirty and bleached with the weather.  This horse waits for a ride that will never happen.  Baking in the harsh Florida sun, this loyal companion stands motionless like the artificial flowers planted in soil-sand that barely sustains weeds.  

There is a sadness to all cemeteries.  Of lives no longer living.  Of loves no longer loving.  Whispered affections long past uttered. Of touches remembered only in memories, and after awhile, not even that.  We are sad because we are aware of the human condition - that our time is limited, that we are doomed.  But there is an eternal sadness, too;  for those who never lived long enough to understand our fragility.   There is a decided perverseness to burying the young.  It upends our sense of cosmic orderliness.  

Not far from the orderliness of the Palms cemetery lies Jacques Chevalier Wilson.  His rocking horse stands guard and stands ready.  Placed there by the loving and stricken hands of family.  Hands that held a two year-old then wrestled with eternal sadness.  For a millisecond of time, Jacques rode proudly upon his steed - a warrior in battle?, a racehorse winning the Derby?, or a little boy simply loving the exhilarating motion.  Both are stilled now.  

Both remain together in the hot, baking Florida sun.     

Jacques Chevalier Wilson 

And His Rocking Horse


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