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Graves in Ukraine
How Remembering the Dead Creates Meaning Rich Culture
I recently spent a few weeks in Ukraine.
To my surprise, one of the 1st things we did upon arrival was visit the graves of some family members long gone. In Ukraine, it is the responsibility of the families of the deceased to keep graves tidy and free of overgrowth.
This is mainly because in the small villages between major cities, local churches are home to the plots of family members that go back generations, and there are no groundskeepers to keep these tombs tendered from the elements.
As I was tagging along this experience, I thought about how beyond my immediate grandparents, I don't really know much about my extended past relatives besides the occasional story or tid-bit from my living relatives. I could tell you that my father's grandfather was a NAVY man who came home and started a candy shop, and that the fathers of my grandparents on the other side were one a banker, and the other a producer of beer.
All the while as I was thinking this, I was browsing some of the most well adorned and beautiful tombstones I've seen in my life, and from a country largely considered poor with this almost certainly being the case for many in these small villages. Common graves featured engraved images or statues rich in detail, with lengthy descriptions about people long gone.
A possible byproduct of this difference in respect for the dead shows in the culture and conversation of the people in Ukraine. Those who I met came across as rich with meaning. People know not just the history of their country which is only just beginning under its' own sovereignty, but they know the histories of their families and culture in a way that I've never experienced so broadly before.
How does remembering the dead create a meaning rich culture?
Meaning is propagated through repetition. This is one of the core importances of ritual and tradition. This is how truths of ancestors become truths of the present time. Ukraine and similar cultures' practice to pass down meaning through repetition will help them to build towards a future that remembers the mistakes of its' past.
Can we currently say the same in the United States?
Maybe the better question is:
How much can you say about your great-grandparents?
This trip was my first out of the United States save for a few jaunts across the north and south borders. Travel doesn’t need a hard sell these days, but count this as one more nudge towards adventure if the only worldview you’ve ever known is your own.
Next week, I’m going to talk about the breakup between the tax contributor and the tax consumer.
Keep on livin’.