There are people who want to be buried with their dog or cat, and who think they have it all worked out by having old Rover buried at Aspen Hill (a pet graveyard established in 1920 at Silver Spring) with space for their own cremated remains.
But what if the land, now commercially valuable, is rezoned for office buildings or some such use -- what then? The business is before the Montgomery County government, which will decide.
One proposal has been to leave the present burials alone but allow no new ones. Fine, unless Rover is already there and you are not, and will not be admitted when your time comes. Or suppose Pompey, Rover's pup, dies two years from now and cannot be buried with old Rover.
As world problems go, I see no dilemma, no matter what the zoning decision is. Even if eventually the land is zoned for gas stations, Rover could be moved to a new site and you could still be buried with him, and nothing should be simpler (as legal problems go) than establishing the rights of those who bought grave sites.
Most of us do not wish to be buried with our animals, but surely it is understandable that some do, and all we have here is a relatively simple task of sorting out, which any court can manage.
But I have been thinking of the long haul, not 50 years but 50,000. There have been billions of people who have died, and the grave sites of extremely few are now known. You can visit the grave site of St. Swithin and King Canute, but not of Achilles or Homer.
It does not bother most of us if we are unsure where the bones of our great-grandfather's grandfather now rest. Or the poor remains of some forebear of the 8th century.
Occasionally somebody digs up bones of the Bronze Age, and it is hard to look on them without reflecting the guy was probably much like us, and people have always marveled that the bones of an obscure peasant may be preserved intact for eons while those of great emperors are lost -- there is something quite satisfactory in this.
Time, which antiquates antiquities and hath an art to make dust of all things, hath yet spared these minor monuments, as Sir Thomas Browne observed of some urn burials dug up, having lain many centuries undisturbed.
I do not, myself, mourn when I get a haircut or trim my nails. They were part of me, but hardly the essence. Hoof and horn make fine fertilizer, and Christopher Lloyd, a celebrated gardener of England, says he always leans out the window when cutting his nails so they will enrich his garden below. I think that a delicate sentiment.
In time, all graveyards will disappear, even the most august repositories of kings, because even stone and bronze at last decay. There will be battles and floods and earthquakes, sooner or later, and if no trace remains of great ancient capitals, who supposes the grave of Adam's hound will be eternally marked, or Charlemagne's terrier?
As for religious views of a bodily resurrection, it seems likely that if God can raise the dead, He can equally well collect whatever molecules are necessary, if any, no matter how widely dispersed. It strikes me odd that a religious person would worry about divine competence.
*Respect is due a dead body not because it is still the person or animal that was loved, but because its physical appearance necessarily reminds us of the life that is no longer in it, and that was cherished. Because of that association, a certain dignity, propriety, cleanliness, all seem right, but once the thing is done with decency -- I would not dream of flushing a pet goldfish down the john, for that matter -- then the rest can be left to God or, if one has no religious faith, to nature or fate or what you will.
But we all know that customs differ, according to the person. There are some who feel the bones, even when they are dust, still deserve respect, and that they should ensure, as well as they can, a perpetual preservation of graves.
Surely they are laying up sorrow for themselves, since perpetuity is hardly within their power, and it is more sensible to come to terms with reality. Dr. Donne, who was second to no man in respect for the dead, used to say they were like a library that was not destroyed, but the scattered leaves all gathered up again; and not lost, in some forgotten language, but translated into a new and better one.
Socrates had the opinion that nothing bad could happen to a good man, and if you say well, something bad happened to him (he was executed for his virtue, which was called a crime by the state) he would say that was not bad, no matter what we think, since it did not cause him to do evil. He was, of course, a better man than any we know now, but if we could attain to his level, we would fidget less and be happier.
I cannot imagine my old Luke -- now there was a dog for you -- gave a fried damn what happened to his great ears, once they were dust, or worked himself into unnecessary sorrows about either life or death, being concerned almost entirely with love, marrow bones, and the glories of this city such as steel utility poles into which he frequently hurtled during his investigations. We never knew why he ran into things. He was not, by Madison Avenue standards, a superachiever, but was none the worse for it that I can see. As for love, I entrust that not to marble but to the universe even beyond all measurements of stars, being more remarkable than a batch of suns.
So the disposition of old bones can be worked out satisfactorily to everybody, beyond doubt, and there is nothing here that cannot be resolved. Now in picking out a new pup, you want to . . .