The Comfort of Stone: A Meditation

Ace of Stones in the West
Ace of Stones in the West

The Gnostics did not hate the body.  But they realized the power of desire over the spirit.  They also recognized that the body was a map to the divine, since it had been formed when the demiurge looked into the Pleroma and saw the underside of God.  –James Goehring, paraphrased from personal lecture notes

That God–unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both–speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.  —Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

I traveled often to Quantico in the past. I had two goals in mind. To take pictures of the spare cemetery grounds. To see my grandfather’s grave.  I have quite a few memories of going during the fall or winter.  Wet bare black branches, grimy wet leaves pressed against the markers.  When they are blown away, dirt silhouettes remain on the surface.  No government holidays loomed, so the grounds were often empty on weekdays.

The land was close enough to the interstate that a persistent drone hung over the site.  Rows & rows of grey markers rushed away from my perspective, following the curve of the land in an unnatural uniform order.  A watermark of remembered life.

I took pictures of the tributes left on the graves.  More than flowers: notes, bottles, coins.  One grave marked with the Angel Moroni has a Zip-locked picture of a man holding a newborn.  Tributes tucked against a bosom of stone.

Dizzy with the energy of spent life, of some earthly connection still remaining or waiting to be found.  I feel this same rush on the battlefields near home.  There is something unknown in the ground beneath my feet, pulling at my ankles like a receding tide.  I stagger, attempting to orient myself with the cars that roar up & down the perimeter, with strangers who park & follow one another to a predetermined spot.

During one visit at Quantico, I follow a steep, sheltered path to a monument on a hill.  Concealed on three sides by trees, it looked out over the grounds, the crest of a wave of earth.  I couldn’t tell you now exactly who or what the marker was for.  I can only tell you that this one time sitting or observing was not enough.  I shed my camera, my bag & walked to the obelisk.

Standing as close as I could, first I pressed my palms, then my forehead against the stone.  The smell of dust filtered its way into my mouth & set squarely against my tongue.  The cold put my teeth on edge & spread across my brow.  The current around me went still.  All I felt was the point where the stone & my flesh met.

I stood there five, seven minutes.  I cannot tell you why.  I didn’t think.  I had no fear with the trees at my back and the monument before me.   When my head broke contact with the stone, my eyes opened & my chest was light.  The dried, faded colors of the grass & the leaves seemed to smolder.  I wanted to laugh.  When I left, my foot pressed firm against the earth & I knew I was alive.