The sweltering heat presses down on us in the hidden cemetery. I pass by inscriptions of women, children, missionaries, diplomats, and seamen.
I imagine some died from mosquito-borne illnesses as I nervously slap away hundreds of the pests. My children flee to higher ground to avoid the onslaught. I and my daughter remain and wander as the clock hastens towards closing time.
Some inscriptions move me to tears. The small crypt of an infant inscribed with words of surrender even as grief slays the soul.
Others give my heart pause to wonder…was it worth it? The sailor whose greatest achievement, the one that took his life, was war to open a port of trade to opium.
Most received their burial in the presence of friends or shipmates, not family. Etched in the side of one stone tomb I read, “The Tomb Erected by a Mournful Friend.” Who was the mournful friend? What does mournful friendship look like in this era?
Then, the lengthy inscription of Robert Morrison who translated the Bible into Chinese and created the Chinese dictionary all in the age before computers. We stand on his shoulders along with hundreds of millions of others who daily benefit from his labors. I’m sure my contribution pales in comparison. Am I content to continue even if my labors never amount to such fame?
Better to go to a house of mourning…this theme echoes in my ears during the season of goodbye gatherings that recently ended. Do they ever end though? Goodbye parties and cemeteries…my current houses of mourning.
Walking through this cemetery anchors my soul to the crucified life. Through the tears I manage to glean something of the realities of a life surrendered.
To conquer? To serve? To give my life? To accept loss that comes to my doorstep? To be the mournful friend?