danicawaters.com

a personal collection of original music, photographs, observations and other random stuff that happens inside my head…

Hollywood Forever, Part 2

Hollywood Forever Cemetery #2

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I have a deep aversion to the thought of being buried when I pass on.  After some self-analysis, I realize I have always experienced cemeteries as cold and foreign places. Having lost my father, all of my grandparents, several distant relatives, two schoolmates and another very close friend, I can say I have been to more than my fair share.  While beautiful in a surreal sort of way, the grounds of most of the cemeteries I’ve visited were manicured to the point that it appeared that they, too, had been embalmed; it was all too fake, too controlled.  I vividly recall deciding after each funeral I attended that I would never go back.  No matter how park-like or serene the surroundings, it was to no avail; there was no life there.  I remember feeling especially sad for my father, who was a true nature lover and who I’m sure would have preferred to have been scattered about an autumnal aspen grove in the Colorado mountains than to be stuck in a hole somewhere in the Midwest.   The whole process felt sad, somehow like the cemetery was a sort of interruption of the natural flow of things, and the dead had somehow been banished to their own equivalent of a leper’s colony.  Through preservation of their bodies the dead were no longer allowed to contribute to the flow of Life, nor were they in a place where such preservation would serve them well.

That’s why I was so surprised at being nothing short of compelled to revisit the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  When I returned, I realized what had nagged on me after my first visit: rather than feeling like death, the grounds felt- and left me feeling – completely alive. Here was an ongoing acceptance and celebration of life in all of its stages. Interspersed among the hundreds of graves, giant gray geese made nests and the ganders strutted about protectively.  Rather than relocate the geese, a simple sign was placed to warn visitors:  “WARNING: Geese are aggressive”.  (And yes, if you unwittingly get too close to a nesting goose, be prepared for a four-foot tall hissing gander to come after you.  That’s just the way it is.) As I discreetly watched a woman who had come to remember who I presume was her deceased husband, I had to smile; after she changed the flowers at his grave and lit some ceremonial incense, she walked towards the geese and began speaking to them. The ganders relaxed – they seemingly knew her well, and I could tell it gave her peace, delight, and a continued sense of purpose.

As I continued to tune in to what was happening around me, it occurred to me that if you came to Hollywood Forever to focus only on sorrow, you would be hard-pressed to not be distracted by the Life that was going on right underneath your nose.  Wading through water lilies, a pristine white crane courted my camera lens, while half a dozen peacocks showed off for onlookers just beyond.  Across the grounds, a fantastic white swan preened his feathers and gazed at his reflection at the Fairbanks Memorial.   And never mind the droppings – in the ongoing circle of life, “Sh!* Happens”.  I was most touched by the undeniable respect and care given to the feral cats that inhabit the spaces between the mausoleums. Rather than trap them or chase them off, the groundskeepers opt to take care of them, and trays filled with cat food are set out and meticulously covered with little tents to ward off any rain.  In my humble opinion, that’s a sample of humanity at its finest.

Instead of focusing on the “I’m so sad you’re gone” aspect of death, Hollywood Forever chooses instead to embrace and celebrate the essence of lives well-lived – the “I’m so happy you were here” part.  This focus is backed by ongoing cultural events held right on the premises, which enhance the lives of the living, and include art exhibits, movie screenings on the Fairbanks Lawn, live concerts held on the grounds and in the Masonic Lodge, and even a spectacular annual celebration of El Dia de los Muertos.  I cannot wait to go.

Ironically, I recently learned of another famous cemetery in the Los Angeles area.  Here’s a small sampling of their Visitor Guidelines:

“·  Picnicking and lying down on lawns or benches on the grounds are prohibited.

·  Loitering is prohibited.”

Hmmm….  Compare that to today’s press release in the Huffington Post advertising Hollywood Forever’s classic film screening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Celebrating the life of Elizabeth Taylor, tomorrow night’s show will mark the beginning of the 10th Annual Cinespia Classic Film Screening, which is held on the Fairbanks Lawn at the Hollywood Forever grounds:

“Two Wheel It: Bicyclists who line up in the driveway before we open the gate are let in before cars. Help keep LA’s air clean and we’ll give you special treatment.

Pack a Picnic: Bring your favorite food, wine, beer or cocktails. Small tables with collapsible/screw-on legs are handy, and a couple small candles help set the mood. Barbecues, grills, and fires are not allowed. Travel light and use a cooler or basket with wheels to make transportation easy.

Seating: Pillows and blankets will keep you cozy and comfy for the movie. A blanket is essential for your set up, and we recommend laying a tarp down under your blanket to keep it dry — it works wonders. We have a chair-free area in the center of the lawn; arrange your spread there for an unobstructed view. If you do bring a chair, make sure it’s 30 inches or lower with a seat that rests on the ground.

Special Needs:
We have areas reserved for wheelchairs and people who need special assistance. We also provide handicapped parking and restrooms — just ask our staff when pulling in and they’ll direct you.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, at Gordon Street, (323-221-3343 or www.cinespia.org)”

While I still wouldn’t wish to be buried anywhere, when it’s my time, I would be more than happy to have a part of me sprinkled over the Hollywood Forever grounds –   especially the part of me that loves concerts, old movies, picnics with small candles, and art.  And when you come to visit, don’t forget the popcorn!

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