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Issue 08 – Christmas 2021


Our Town

On choosing one's grave.


We bought burial plots for our family vacation this year. It was the undisputed highlight of our annual trip home to the small town in the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas where my wife and I grew up. Determining the precise coordinates for one’s eternal resting place is more complicated than it sounds, at least when it involves two families, now joined by marriage, who have lived side by side on the same inconspicuous corner of the earth since the middle of the nineteenth century and a “system” of record keeping not much more recent. 

The negotiations required several visits to the town cemetery with my wife, my father, my sister, and sister-in-law in various combinations, the length of the excursion depending on the composition of the expeditionary party. The trips with my dad were probably the longest. He is moving a little slower these days and needs to rest in the shade where we cannot but linger over the history, memories at once personal and collective, inscribed in stone before us. My great-grandparents and most of their ten children are buried in the older, shaded part of the cemetery, with their descendants dispersed around the grounds under other names. They lie surrounded by other old families, including my wife’s. They founded one of the area’s first schools, Clarke’s Academy, which once taught Greek and Latin to hill folk. Some of these families have dissipated or died out; others are barely hanging on. 

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About the author

Michael Hanby

Michael Hanby is an associate professor of religion and philosophy of science at the John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America. This essay originally appeared in the Christmas 2021 issue of The Lamp magazine.