Digging

bury-the-deadBy Andrea Ferich. An excerpt from Bury the Dead: Stories of Death and Dying, Resistance and Discipleship

Our bodies and the land are one. Move the earth with your body, dance on it, farm in it, play with it; our final return to it is sacred. The soil is made of clay, like you and me–  hydrocarbon molecules, layers of geological and muscular formations, alive. The soil, mountains, and valleys are layered with time like our layered muscle tissue. We dance on the earth in the face of death, for the healing of ourselves and the healing of the land, connected as farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, and lovers of the goodness of the good green earth moving through lament. Our bodies and the earth are one and their healing and grieving are interconnected.

January 2011, around the corner from my house, Anjaneah Williams was murdered, across the street from Sacred Heart Church, pierced in the side, at 2 pm, walking out from a sandwich shop. It was a Thursday. She died six hours later at Cooper Hospital in the arms of her mother, before the children who deeply loved her. One of the gunman’s stray bullets shot across the street through the stained glass at Sacred Heart. Anjaneah’s death reverberated in the air, an exploding, echoing canyon; a screaming mother in a vacuum, unheard and deafening. Her murder was one of forty in the neighborhood in the near half-century since the shipyard closed. Forty people on the sidewalks, on the lots where houses once stood, in a neighborhood with twenty-eight known environmentally contaminated sites.

Most of the ancient world buried and burned the remains of their loved ones. For most of the 2, 500,000 years humans have died, we have returned to the earth, making it sacred across religious perspectives. Many of those who came before us have dug the graves of their loved ones. The act of digging the burial hole is sacred, is part of the mystery of mourning. Grieving has a physical side; what is done to the earth is also done to you, moving through the layers of pain.

We broke three pick axes digging the holes to plant the fruit-trees at the edge of the neighborhood near the river. At this place the earth groans where a murdered woman’s body fell. Dawn McCarey was murdered here, her body thrown on this hard and frozen land December 23, 1997.  On this land near the Delaware River we walk the Via Cruces to remember Christ falling over and over again on his way to death. Our orchard, Finca de Ancona is one of the Stations of the Cross, one of fourteen sites here in Waterfront South where people have been murdered: shot, strangled, beaten, stabbed. I never knew Dawn McCarey, somebody’s daughter, strangled and dumped, found dead in the back alley between industries and families, thrown like weeds not going to seed, land and body unwanted, waiting. We dug and we dug; we broke three pick axes digging and caring deeply, loving the goodness of body in earth.  The soil anointed with air, sunlight, and water into fruit and wildflowers. This is our orchard; this is our promise of the fruit trees in the city beside the river, healing the nations, growing hazelnuts, apples, peaches, pears, and cherries.  We care for this place, make it more beautiful, and continue to dig our holes. We remember; the earth is part of our Body. May eternal rest be granted unto us and perpetual light shine dancing on.

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