Last Easter Sunday, with camera in hand we headed out at 4:30am to meet the dead.
While a majority of the Christian world were heading to their local church to celebrate a man raising from the dead, we preferred to keep company with those less fortunate, the ones still in the grave.
Hidden in every major city is a place where the poverty stricken go to be interred. Its often hidden from sight, in some out of the way place. Some give it a name, others just call it Potters Field.
John Doe is buried Here. So is the man you passed every day on the street corner who'd lost his legs long ago and holds out a ragged sign for help. Doubtful you even realized he wasn't on that corner anymore. The woman you almost hit one night who came shambling out of an alleyway, her arms covered with needle marks, her face gaunt and ghostly. That lost looking little old lady who lived in poverty across the street for years, who one day left in an ambulance and never came back. Her few belongings ending up out in front of the tiny place she called home. Homeless children, who never had a chance to grow and thrive.
That is the nature of this place. It is neither friendly or welcoming. There is no dignity, no ornate tombs, no flowers brought monthly to remember the dead.
It is merely a refuse heap where those without are dropped off and forgotten about. And here we chose to spend Easter morning before the sun even touched the sky.
Despite the disquiet of the dead passing, there is a quiet peace here. It is neither frightening or repulsive. Huge live oaks weeping Spanish moss watch silently over the place. They are the guardians. In the early spring it is marshy, with small streams passing near the graves.
But then the water fades away leaving only sunken paths where it once was. And it is replaced with brief beauty as wild flowers burst forth, carpeting the landscape for a few short weeks and making it almost faerie like in its appearance.
Then spring gives way to the heat of a southern summer and bakes the ground to hard clay where only the insects care to wander. And still the live oaks keep watch.
We've wandered here before. Only once during the heat of a summers day where we labored for breath and the ground snarled almost as if they were about to spit out the dead as if they were a sour taste in its mouth. It was neither peaceful or welcoming that first time. After that we took to the night and visited only while the darkness wrapped around us.
The gate is never locked. Why bother? Not even the homeless want to visit here. It is too much of a reminder of what awaits them. The temptation is too great to just lay down under the oaks and go to sleep for good.
In the center of the this place sits a massive oak. Its branches so heavy that its laid down with the dead and covered the meager graves with its vast arms, protectively.
It may be ancient, but it is very awake. It knows everything that goes on in this place. It is aware but not angry. It would prefer to be alone with the dead, but occasionally it seeks the companionship of the living also. Beneath its branches are the shattered remains of graves and the occasional marker stone. They huddle beneath its arms.
There is an other worldliness to this place. You cannot see the dead. There are not spirits hanging in the air or eerie noises almost beyond the range of hearing. But there is something. You cross a border into someplace else when you enter here and there is a momentary concern that you might be unable to cross back again.
There is evidence that others have been here too. Some graves have mementos left by the living. Some have hand scrawled signs made with spray paint and plywood with the names of the dead upon them. There are the bits and pieces of shattered statues set to guard the dead but ending up buried and lost with them
And there are the signs of the practitioners. The voodoo users, rootmen and spell casters who use this place to strengthening their work. Evidence of them is all around in the form of half burnt vigil candles and oddly placed items such as pairs of shoes and rotting eggplants that seem to have no earthly reason for why they should be there.
Yes, others have been here and others will come. The tree knows. Some it doesn't care for. The ones who lay dark and evil spells at the base of its roots. Some it welcomes. The ones that come to help others. The ones with good hearts and strong skills that they use to give aide to those in need. These are always welcome.
And even when the sun finally rises to each new day, the other-worldliness may fade, but it still remains. And when the sun again sinks, it will cast its gates open again to whatever awaits it in the night.
As the sun finally rose on this Easter morning, we were better people for having shared this night with the dead and we leave it in peace until our next visit.