Rest in peace. Most headstones in a cemetery bear these weighty words. They cover a multitude of situations. They signal release from a wasting disease that made someone’s final months miserable, escape from a string of unresolved estrangements that brought an embittered family to the funeral, even the simple wisdom that living well is both a gift—and an uphill battle. “Rest in peace”—the words stand as our final blessing on the dead.
I fear we misread our inscriptions. These aren’t words we speak to the dead; they are words the dead speak to the living. “Rest in peace” sums up their final counsel to those of us left behind. Imagine what these bones would say if they could speak: “We have seen it all, and we know peace is the only way to live. Resist violence; reconcile with your enemies; love without measure.” These are the last words of the dead to the living, and they challenge us to spend our days making peace.
An old rancher in Montana took this advice while he was still alive. Knowing his days were numbered, he summoned the family to his bedside: “There’s no hope for me ever healing up or getting well again. So do you want to keep fighting over whose rooster that really is—or do you want to try and get along?” The words the family inscribed on his headstone reminded them of his deepest wish for them: “Rest in peace.”
The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers