Not far from here, on a hill overlooking the Black Warrior River is the site of the old Bryce Hospital cemetery, dating from the mid-1800s. Having driven by many times, I’ve wanted to stop and explore the area, and finally one day, I did. The cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of former patients of the mental hospital from the days when its census was highest, before the turn of the 20th century. There are a few visible headstones on the hilltop in the clearing of the main graveyard. Always one to wander off the beaten path, I was surprised to see the wooded regions of the hillside literally studded with gravestones like the one shown. Most of them have numbers inscribed, some have dates, and some have “woman” or “man.” Only a few have visible names.
Pausing for reflection, I felt a sadness there, among the markers to all these forgotten lives. “Woman.” “Man.” “2262.” Who were these people? What were their stories, there loves, hardships and triumphs? Had they walked beneath the ancient trees still standing on mounds of gnarled roots on the hospital lawn? Had they been treated with compassion at the facility? Did they have family members still living somewhere, unaware of their relative’s gravesite on a wooded riverbank? Had anyone ever come to pay their last respects? Had any remembered something special about these folk, a unique talent or gift, perhaps a playful grin, or the way they always greeted the staff or other patients in now-abandoned halls? Had their lives been a thread in the fabric of another person’s story?
In gratitude, I then considered the precious opportunities I’ve been given to form relationships, and to be impacted by the lives of others – lives and stories that become interwoven with my own. Narratives that, in some way, are retold many times-over in the course of a lifetime on each occasion they are recalled, and as that recollection moves me to gratitude, service, tears, joy, or just plain silence when the thought of them lights the horizon. What a blessing, I thought, to be cherished, to be appreciated, to be remembered, to have a story that is a part of the permanent weave in the fabric of other lives. I suppose then, in some ways, those unidentified lives from another time became a part of my storyline that day. Perhaps I can somehow honor them by remembering others; by making an effort to cherish the lives and stories I am touched by every single day.