“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”
I often hear myself mumbling Dylan Thomas’ poem from 1951 when I wander down the graveyard late at night. At that time, most visitors have gone home, and I am left with a strange feeling of emptiness. The living bring the feeling of emptiness with them. To them, life is still a fact, and they treat the graveyard as a final resting place. Never could they have envisioned the vitality and strength that characterized the last breaths of those who now rest here at the graveyard. Every grave owner fought for their lives, and none of them went gently into the night. Every gravestone bears witness to that last battle, life against death.
As a librarian here at the graveyard, my task is to make certain that no life is allowed to pass without me knowing its history. When a new spirit joins us, I always urge it to sit down with me so that I can listen to its story. Most spirits are rather upset to begin with. The thought of death still scares them, and they do not wish to have their story written down, because that would indicate the ending of the last chapter in their lives. Life is potential, that’s what I always say. In life, there is always potential for a new turn of events, a new approach, a new chance and a new defeat. In death, that potential has disappeared. All spirits accept this fact after a while, and they are, in the end, happy that I would like to listen to their stories.
Some of the stories are gentle and consistent. An old spirit told me about how he had watched the railroad being built in his hometown when he was a kid. There was nothing he wanted more than to become a train driver, and by the age of nineteen, he became just that. His railroad interest never ceased. As an old man, he built his own model railways around the apartment.
Some stories begin difficult but end well. One of the spirits told me about a life where she travelled constantly. In this phase of her life, she would swap between manic happiness and bottomless depression. At one of her travels, she was out mountain climbing, slipped and fell over thirty meters to the ground. The fall shattered both of her legs, and she was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. In a wheelchair, she could no longer run away from her problems, and was then forced to confront them. She described the process as a path toward gaining peace of mind, and told me that despite everything, she thought of the last years of her life as the decidedly best ones.
Many stories are not as happy as these two. Some talk about a feeling of being hunted by some sort of shadow that never lets them go. Others tell me that they never felt that they figured life out properly. They never really understood what the meaning was. Some panic when death arrives, and realize – suddenly they claim – that they haven’t done what they ought to have done. A young spirit told me about how she drove down the motor road in two hundred kilometers an hour with her eyes so wet with tears that she couldn’t see where she was driving. The next minute, everything went black. Another spirit told me that he had never felt valuable to anyone, and one day, he decided to consume a glass of pills. Three days went by before anybody found him.
If I have learned anything from these stories, it is that one should not underestimate the importance of friends, family and other beloved ones. They are central to all happy stories. Many spirits talk about a turn of event in their lives induced by another person – a savior or an eye opener. For some, this person shows up early in the story, for others, the person arrives late. I think this illustrates well that life essentially is potential. In most stories, the spirits tell me about something they are proud to have done – something they view to be their contribution in life. For some, this contribution is rather concrete, like a travel, a family or a product they have designed. For others, it is more about solving a mystery, understand something central, untangle things.
When the story has been told and I have noted it all down, I let the spirits wander on. I conserve all the stories here at the graveyard, and I gladly tell them to those who would like to hear them. Many nights, I have had story telling rounds for those who have been interested. In the evening, the visitors come, put flowers on the graves and “remember their loved ones”, as they say. I stand a bit behind them and think that their memories are but a portion of the story. A fraction, just like the gravestones. The gravestones are the back of the books in the library. Behind them, a large and complex story lies that every spirit fought hard for. None of the spirits went gently into the night, but their departure has filled the night with stories.