This past weekend my mother and I attended “Music of the Night” at the Gothic Chapel of the downtown cemetery. It is a long tradition that now spans a full decade of attendance. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many times that we have enjoyed the special evening. It still is one of my very favorite events of the year. It’s a highly anticipated ritual. We love to get there early and drive around the cemetery taking pictures of the foliage and admiring the beautiful monuments. The cemetery is old, with many graves dating to the 1800s. Ornate carvings, weathered limestone, ancient gnarled trees fill the grounds and fill my soul with awe. We queue up in front of the chapel well in advance of opening time to be one of the first in the doors and secure “our seats”. We met some wonderful people from Cincinnati and traded tips on great places to visit. Once everyone is seated, there are some brief announcements. A member of the audience that night was honored for her years of service with the symphony and she played a key role in starting up the “Music of the Night” concerts! And then, the announcer called my name and asked where I was. She knew that it was our 10th time attending and the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation gave my mom and I CDs from the performers and gifted us with 2 complimentary tickets to next year. I was stunned and overwhelmed by their kindness.
Then the lights dimmed and magic descended. The “Phantom” (aka Charles Manning) emerged from the shadowed wings and made his way to the organ where he wove a web of enchantment and Halloween wonder for us. Two singers accompany the organist and they were in tip-top shape the night we attended. The songs are familiar by now, but always with a surprise twist or spontaneous moment. Some of my favorites are Danse Macabre, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, and Transformation (from Jekyll and Hyde). And of course, they perform selections from Phantom of the Opera. “Music of the Night” was especially beautiful and poignant. After the concert, we have donuts and cider and then make our way outside for a night-time tour of the cemetery. Our resident historian takes us to notable graves and has interesting antidotes from the lives of past residents to share with us. We walk to the top of Crown Hill and have a beautiful view of downtown at night. It is a magical evening.
I love visiting old cemeteries – and this one has become particularly dear from traversing it so often. The monuments are hauntingly beautiful and being there on the eve of Halloween reminded me of a phrase I had heard earlier called “the thinning of the veil”. It refers to the belief that on All Hallow’s Eve, the separation between the worlds of the living and dead move closer together. I found this intriguing because in the Christian tradition, the veil is a key symbol of death too. The habit of covering death is long ingrained in human history. We wrap the bodies of those who’ve departed with burial cloths and hide their faces. The bereaved frequently wear veils over their faces to hide their grief. Death, hiding, separation… all of it can be symbolized by the veil. We cover the evidence of our own mortality while craving immortality. As I wandered through graveyards, my heart clung to the words of the prophet of old, Isaiah. He looked forward to the day when death would be defeated and we would not mourn the fracture of separation from the world, from those we love, from the God who loves us. I’ll leave you this night of All Hallow’s Eve with this promise that the veil is indeed thinning.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isiah 25:7, 8a, 9
Happy Halloween and Blessings to you,