In a quiet corner of Montevideo, Uruguay, lies the municipal cemetery of Buceo, the oldest burying ground in the city. Built in 1835, it lies across the road from the lively, sandy beaches of the Rio de la Plata.
Much of it is laid out in grid-like fashion, its lanes bordered with palm trees, evergreens and flowering shrubs. Visitors wandering through the park-like necropolis encounter ornately carved white marble monuments, garnished with flowers. Here and there a statue (angel, saint, anchor, crucifix) pokes upward through the jumbled maze of marble, granite and bronze.
In this cluttered grove of elaborate monuments, one grave stands out. Not part of any row, column or grid, it endures alone. Near no trees, there is no shade to provide cool relief from the blazing sun.
She lies unadorned on a flat sheet of bronze, spread over a granite slab. Her procumbent body emerges from the smooth surface in high relief. Curled on her right side she lies in a fetal position; face blurred in a mass of tangled hair. Who is she?
Head cradled in her arms, the fingers flex to graze her tender flesh. A delicate shoulder emerges gracefully from the folds of her sleeveless dress. The hem of a garment flows to cover her heels. Only the toes are seen arched gracefully. Is she asleep?
Grass fringing the grey stone slab has yellowed; died thirsting for rains that never came. Debris from dead vegetation encircles her neck like a garland. The only green is the patina covering her bronze flesh and flowing dress. Does she grieve for someone, or is she to be grieved?
A marker inscribed with the name and profession of the occupant is the only decoration. There are no dates of birth or death. One is not able to tell whether the occupant is present or yet to arrive. Is she the guardian or the lost?
Gazing at her crumpled figure lying flat against the slab, ones eyes and the heart are drawn to the earth, rather than aspiring to heavenly heights. Is this the vision of death? It is faceless, nameless. At once peaceful and fearful, it is not grand. Angelic intermediaries between heaven and earth do not surround it. There are no florid architectural devices. Stunning in its simplicity, it stands alone.
And so do we.