She was 22--that's enough of a start.
There's a story here. Esther Helen Emal nee Claassen died very young, just 22 years old, and she died in 1945, which might prompt you to believe she left a husband in uniform; and that might be true if it weren't for the fact that her mortal remains are in the cemetery beside First Mennonite Church, a rural congregation in central Nebraska.
The war didn't take her, even though it took thousands of others her age in 1945. And it likely didn't take her husband either, although he was, in all likelihood, very much of age. Traditionally, Mennonites are pacifists, although calling them "traditional" pacifists makes the position they've religiously staked out sound far less difficult than it is or has been. Telling someone you're a pacifist with Hitler trying to take over the world couldn't have been a cakewalk.
I was out on a blue highway, on my way back to Beatrice, Nebraska, when there it was--First Mennonite, a tan brick fortress mid-prairie, its own well-manicured cemetery in the backyard. I have to push myself to make unplanned stops because my natural tendency--a vestige of original sin, I think--is simply to keep trucking, to get there, wherever it is I'm going. My internal capitalist reminds me I hadn't planned on a stop at First Mennonite. It wasn't on the itinerary.
These days, that's when I remind myself I'm retired.
I drove in. There's always life in a cemetery.
To be truthful, I didn't think much about Esther Helen Eman nee Claassen when I stood in the grass beside her grave and snapped this picture. What had stopped me cold was the icyness of what's on the cement beside her--three little somewhat scattered markers telling the world that there's a vacancy here; the space beside Esther Helen is open, you know, just in case.
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls." That's John Donne. And Hemingway, later. "It tolls for thee."
Which is to say, me.
Memento Mori--memorials of death--abound in our world, although, quite frankly, they abounded much more richly in the age of Menno Simmons and John Donne. Here's a couple of beauties I snapped in Holland a couple of years ago.
One of the side doors of an old cathedral, a sticky note skeleton, to remind you not to forget that there's an end to things. Just sayin'.
How about this bonny lass? Naked as a baby, but that skull is, you might say, a dead giveaway.
I don't know--maybe I'm just susceptible. "Vacant," the three little slips said, as if space was on sale last Saturday.
Look, today's our anniversary, not a time to be haunted by death, right?
Well, maybe, maybe not. What all this marble intends is simply to say that death is real.
So live. Get off the highway. Keep scratching items off your bucket list, and always add a couple more at the bottom.
That's not a bad rule of thumb for an anniversary--42 years today. We'll have to see what we can do.
I don't know a thing about Esther Helen Eman nee Claassen, but I dare bet that were she sitting there at her grave site last Saturday when I stopped, she'd probably suggest the very same thing.