I arrived at JFK airport in New York City this morning at 8:05am and hired a cab to take me to my sister's place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I asked the cab driver how much this ride would cost. He replied its on the meter since we are going to Brooklyn and not New York City which is a flat rate of $45. Yikes! I gulped and buckled my seatbelt. I kept thinking its OK to spend some money, I'm seeing my family after 11 months of being independent in Portland, Oregon. So, instead of dwelling on the upcoming dent to be made in my wallet, I began talking with the cab driver. We started with the usual weather chat, followed by some traffic updates and the New York City cost of living coupled with the poor job market, then silence, a bridge, more silence, and then I saw it. First the light caught my eye. Then the shades of white and gray. Then the rectancilinear shapes all fairly similar in size, but shifting in height due to the rolling hillside they stood upon. These rectangles echoes the much larger ones in the distance. We were driving past the largest cemetery in New York, The Calvary Cemetery of Queens. Now, this is a cemetery I have seen before. But having been away from the enormous and over populated city that is New York, my memory was a bit foggy. I should mention that upon leaving the airport, I was drawn to the low income housing units sprawled out in every direction. So many people living so closely in such mediocrity. This is not what life is about.
I asked the cabdriver for the name of this expansive city of the dead. I began to feel confused about it. Why do we bury our dead in a plot of land to just sit and take up space? I then asked him from where he came. India. I asked him if there are such places in India where the dead are buried. He said in Hinduism the dead are cremated. He said that we all have a light and that when we die that light leaves us, and then we are just a dead body. He said that burying a dead body in the ground is the same as cremated it and returning the ashes to the earth. Some people have their deceased loved ones cremated and then keep them in an urn in their home. He said that is the same thing as a cemetery.
I continued to think about all this as we drove through the congestion and honking. Is burying a loved one in a cemetery a means of holding on? Does it make some people feel more comfortable and less alone? Is it a form of denial? Does burying someone or cremated them and keeping the ashes interrupt the natural cycle of life?
As we neared my sister's apartment, one more conversation took place. We spoke of the hustle and bustle around us. The cab driver said that a person's pressure goes up living in the city. He said you miss one train and you are 30 minutes late to work. People are stressed. I said that's why I live in Oregon. He said that you have to have lots of patience to live in New York City and that everyone is in rush. I sat there looking out the window, listening to his words, thinking of how calm he seemed. He sits there in his cab all day long watching New York City as if it was a movie. Scene after scene, new characters, new stories, new conversations. I wonder how many conversations he thinks about after a ride is up. Is he writing about me right now?