For those who have never been, Savannah is as charming as it is old. (It was founded in 1733.) Amid the standard city offerings, downtown is full of giant trees, beautiful churches, and a centuries-old cemetery—three things I love.
Last week I visited Savannah and the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Colonial Park Cemetery. I had been to the Colonial Park Cemetery once before but exploring the Bonaventure Cemetery was a first.
Bonaventure means “good fortune” and was first named for land purchased by the Mullryne family of South Carolina in the mid-to-late 1700s. Since its purchase by the Mullrynes, the specific 600-acre lot of Bonaventure was a plantation, a home of various local politicians through the years, and a makeshift hospital for French troops at one point. The land passed hands a few times, but with each passage a constant emerged: each family used the land as a burial ground. And so, with time, a cemetery was formed.
Cemeteries might be considered morbid by some. After all, who wants to be surrounded by the dead? Who wants markers of decomposing bodies within sight of anyone who visits? Burial grounds are reminders to what we don’t like to talk or think about: death.
Though the symbol of a heavy topic, cemeteries represent so much more. There is life to be considered among the gravestones. Cemeteries are the final gateway to the untold stories and legacies of those who have lived before us. Who were they? What did they do? What did they believe? What would we have learned had we met them? Unfortunately, most of that isn’t found on an epitaph. One can only guess based on what is actually inscribed. Cemeteries also prompt us to live—to really, truly live—and they point us to Christ—the one whom the grave could not contain.
Guarding the numerous tombstones at both cemeteries were some monstrous trees, an awesome work of God’s creation. The contrast between these tokens was stark: trees are full of life and graves are full of death. In their way, the big, old trees add to the poignancy of cemeteries, and they reminded me of Psalm 1.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
These trees are a picture of what our lives should be like, while resolutely standing next to tombstones that contain the final physical description of what are lives really are like. Both the trees and the tombstones, though, issue a reminder to “live to the hilt,” as Jim Elliot once said so succinctly. However, we don’t just live to the hilt for the sake of living large. We live to the hilt “every situation [we] believe to be the will of God,” as the rest of the quote goes. The purpose? Not for a fancy tombstone or lengthy epitaph, but for God’s glory. Just like the trees planted by steams of water.