For a variety of reasons, I have long been fond of the music of Keane. One of their songs, called “Black Burning Heart” taught me a word that I had not known before, and I am always pleased when I can learn useful vocabulary words. The word cenotaph is a very fancy word describing a rather striking monument, an empty tomb dedicated in honor of someone whose body is buried elsewhere. Most people would not use this word at all in their lives, except that there are a few possible situations where the word could be used naturally and easily in certain contexts. Let us discuss at least one of these contexts briefly before we discuss why I thought about this matter today.
The Bible is not really about cenotaphs. Even though to be buried is an extremely important matter in the Bible, to the extent where not to be buried is an incredible curse on a person. Despite this, the Bible demonstrates an immense lack of interest in monumental graves. David’s grave, which was apparently recognizable for at least a millennium, was mainly a reminder of the fact that he saw death and corruption and therefore was not the promised Messiah. Other biblical figures, like Moses and Jesus Christ would appear to have been prominent candidates for a cenotaph, but so far as we know the early Church had little interest in the particular place where Jesus spent three days and three nights in the ground (and it only became of interest later on, after the Church had departed from God’s ways). We know from the scriptures (namely, in Jude, quoting a work called the Assumption of Moses) that there was some argument over the location of Moses’ death because knowing the location of Moses’ grave would make the place on Mt. Nebo a location for superstition and false worship.
Growing up in central Florida, I grew up with a lot of fog around. The fog was thick, blocking vision sometimes within a few feet, settling in deep over the low ground without many hills to break up the terrain. Like fog tends to do it burns up quickly in the heat of the Florida sun, leaving no trace of its power or obscurity as it fades away into oblivion. The fog that is so powerful that one cannot see through it or shine light through it fades in the air in the heat and light of the sunshine, given a little bit of time. Sometimes we see the same sort of phenomenon in our own personal lives where fog appears to be strong but fades away in time, although in some hollows the fog can linger for a very long time indeed.
Portland is a city with a lot of fog. Given that I do a fair amount of driving in the waning moments of the darkness and the early moments of the morning, I see a lot of fog. This morning as I crossed the Willamette River the entire west bank of the river was shrouded in clouds so as to be nearly invisible. When one is driving through traffic slowly, one sees a lot of fog, especially as it appears that Portland drivers are drawn to looking at disabled cars on the side of the road as well as the remnants of accidents also off of the road like small town rubberneckers instead of as the big city drivers who keep on driving regardless of what is going on around them. Driving in traffic gives one plenty of time to think on occasion. And often I wonder about myself, whether my own life and my own life’s works would be memorialized best in a cenotaph of fog, a monument to evanescence and the fading away of our lives. I wonder if anything that I have created will endure. So much of what we spend our lives in fades away and is forgotten. Other things we wish would fade away endure for a long time. Hopefully something good will be left of us as a monument, to help make the world a better place.