Last Saturday I went for a spring walk in a cemetery in a part of Toronto called Cabbagetown. The necropolis, which I had never walked through before, was established in 1850. It’s a large tree filled space with the graves of many people, some with monuments and others with simpler headstones and ground plaques. What first drew me to the cemetery was a large flowering magnolia at the gates. Inside, the birds were calling and singing in the trees. It was a peaceful setting that other people were also drawn to walking in, but with plenty of space for the distance needed these days. I thought of death as the backdrop to this time of pandemic and also as a companion of sorts that I’ve had for many years.
Under large trees, I sometimes saw writing on the stones that had been worn by years of rain and snow and was hardly decipherable. Some stones had lichen growing on them, others were broken through time.
Two graves had the most emotional impact on me. The first was that of a young man named Edwin Robertson. He was a soldier who died in 1943 during World War II at the age of 30.
The second was of a public figure, a politician I hadn’t known was buried there. Part of his monument was a sculpture of his head and chest that was immediately recognizable. His name was Jack Layton and he was the head of the social democratic party, the NDP. He had been my member of parliament for years. He died at 61 of cancer soon after winning the most seats his party had ever won in our Parliament.
I felt saddened by these losses–that of a young man in war and a political leader who may have, in time, brought more progressive change to Canada.
As I continued walking around, I became interested in seeing if religious symbols, other than Christian ones, were present. I did come across two or three plaques with symbols of Judaism. Being a Jew myself, I had wondered if any Jews had been buried at the necropolis. I also saw graves with Asian names on them, but was unable to understand the writing and whether it was of a religious nature. There were also stones without religious symbols at all.
My walk and contemplation of life and death was accompanied throughout by the birds–robins, chickadees, two ravens and a blue jay plus other birds that I didn’t catch glimpses of and whose songs I don’t know. As always, those animals helped me on my way.