Behold and See, As You Pass By

By Cornelia Read

Last Night I went to the Grassroots Preservation Awards ceremony at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, to celebrate my cousin Cate Ludlam’s work at Prospect Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens. Cate is most excellent, and her involvement with the cemetery is the basis of my third novel, Invisible Boy. Which just came out in French, if you happen to know of any Francophones.

It was amazing to be at the church which was known as “The Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.” Henry Ward Beecher was the priest there, and used to hold mock slave auctions to buy the freedom of specific slaves. Also, they have a chunk of Plymouth Rock. And the Brooklyn Boys Choir performed. So the whole thing was lovely. As is Cate.

And today… well, it’s fucking Friday the 13th, to begin with. Which is rather fitting. It’s also the first anniversary of my father’s suicide. It’s been a trippy week, as you might imagine. Lots to think about.

And tomorrow is my 30th boarding school reunion. I missed the 25th because I was on tour for my first novel, which is pretty damn luxury reason to miss something I otherwise would have loved to attend. Especially because I got to do several gigs with the very gracious and lovely Lee Child. It was at one of those that I saw Dad for the first time in nearly twelve years, actually. And we kind of re-bonded after a long hiatus. Which was a nice thing to have happened, considering how it all turned out.

So, sad old times, happy old times. Fuck me, it’s a lot, you know? So I spent a chunk of today at the family cemetery on Centre Island, which is in Oyster Bay, New York. Ludlams and Smiths–my mother’s people. The gravestones go back to the late 17th century. Which is pretty mind-boggling. Wrong family, but I felt like communing with those who’ve gone on to whatever’s next.

And I stopped, as I always do, in front of my favorite headstone, the one with the inscription:

Behold and see, as you pass by

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, you soon must be.

Prepare for death, to follow me.

Yeah, baby… memento mori.

So that’s all swirling around in my head today. And I hope I don’t cry tomorrow, because it’s going to be a happy goddamn day and they’re going to dance the Maypole and the dogwood flowers are going to be out.

So fuck death, and sadness, and misery, and all the bad shit. It’s spring, it’s May, it’s gorgeous out. I wish everyone a day of perfect peace and happiness, and only good memories.

Who do you miss, my ‘Ratis? Who would you like to spend the day with today, if you had them back for just a little while. Tell me something good.


16 thoughts on “Behold and See, As You Pass By

  1. Barbie

    Wow, Cornelia. The inscription on the headstone gave me chills. I'm a bit of a 'fraidy cat for cemeteries, but I always thought it would be really interesting to walk around and imagine the life story of some of those names.

    Your posts are always so full of heart. I'm sending big hugs to you all the way down for Brazil. I hope your heart is soft tomorrow and that things get less overwhelming soon.

    Who do I miss? My grandma, with every fiber of my being, every day of my life. She was… everything. She passed away suddenly in 2006 and i completely lost ground. She was the most stable person in my life, the only person who truly loved me. I think about her all the time and yearn for her, but I don't know that I'd want to have one more day with her. I dream about her quite a bit, and every time, by the end, I hang on to her and beg her not to leave me again. Every time. I don't know that I'd like to have another day only to lose her again when it ended. Okay, better go before I start crying.

    Good thoughts being sent your way, Cornelia 🙂

  2. Reine

    Fuck death is right. Cornelia… take this hug, please… and this big smooch. And don't lose them.

    Who do I miss… mmm. I miss my my cousin Marianne. She was my age, and we just about destroyed the whole of Boston, Marblehead, he Cape, the Vineyard, Nantucket, Vermont, New York, and the Champlain ferry from Charlotte.

    I studied the history of that congregation at the div school. Hugely important in the development of civil rights. Henry Ward Beecher was a great proponent of women's rights as well as an abolitionist. Brilliant speaker.

    Remember… keep them with you… huge hug… big smooch.

  3. Reine

    I am definitely going to buy that book. It will take me months to read, but damn it cornelia, you just keep coming up with shit I want.


  4. PD Martin

    Sounds like a tough few days, Cornelia. Hope you get through it okay.

    Who do I miss…lots of people. From the time I was 19 to 26 five of my friends died. Some close, some more acquaintances. From those years I probably miss my first love the most…I still think about him. But I think one of the most tragic deaths around me was recently (a year ago on 29 May). This guy was thirty-six with a three year old and a two-week old baby. Tomorrow is the baby's first birthday. And he was the loveliest guy…so I miss him, but I also miss him for my friend and her two children.

  5. PD Martin

    By the way…I find old tombstones so interesting. I lived in Ireland for a year and a half and there are some amazing ones there. Your collection above is "beautiful" and the inscription haunting.

  6. JT Ellison

    Sending lots of love and hugs – I wish I had my grandparents back, so I could mine their stories and find out what they did with all their furniture when they fled Philly, then Virginia. Looooong story. Hang in, C!

  7. Rae

    Great post, Miss C – sending good thoughts your way.

    If I could bring anyone back for a day, it might be fun to spend one day each with my mom and dad. The last 20 years have been quite a ride, and I think they'd get a kick out of all the stories. Plus, if it was only for a day, we probably wouldn't piss each other off too much 😉

  8. Fran

    I love cemetaries, the older the better. I have no idea why, but they make me feel grounded and hopeful. If that's not too contradictory. Well, until I get to the children's sections. Then I'm just sad.

    My mom. No questions. If I could have one day with one person, it'd be my mom. If I could add two, I'd probably add my friend Lou, of the leather jacket, or my friend Rob, who died suddenly this winter of pneumonia, much to my utter shock and dismay. I never got to say good-bye to him, and I did to Lou.

    But my mom. Wow. Miss her each and every day. She was wonderful and funny and amazing, and I never got to hear all her stories, which is probably my single biggest regret. So yeah, a day with Mom.

  9. Fran

    PS: Or a day with Lillian's mom, whom I never got to meet, and that saddens me. They had a turbulent and tumultuous history, but I'd have loved to meet her anyway.

  10. Reine

    …and my little brothervi never met… and Sheldon who escorted me to senior reception, died recently of a wicked form of MS. Forgot to say Marianne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on a Thursday, died the following Tuesday. Is it awful in the light of all gone to want some time with my dogs Seneca Beaulac and Daisy Driver?

  11. Reine

    . . . Uncle Happy. Tom Troy . . . Peter Gomes . . . Grandmother Harrington . . . I am too greedy.

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Sending you a big hug from this side of the Atlantic, Cornelia. Loved the inscriptions on the stones.

    We are indeed a short time here and a long time gone.

    Many congrats on L'ENFANT INVISIBLE!

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Thank you for the post, Cornelia. I suspect that you're having a better day today at the reunion — at least one that's more singularly distracted.

    I miss my godfather, Al Solomon, and wish I could seek his advice and feel his unstinting love right now.

  14. Chris Hamilton

    I would like to spend the day, or even part of it, with an intelligent person in the Mets front office. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist.

    But my mom's dad was my favorite person as a child. And when he died, I think that set off a series of events that made it easy for me to be less than I should have been. I'd like to spend some time with him.

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