Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler

Happiness From the Unexpected

Cemetery Meditation

I begin with a question. As you were coming here this morning, did the thought of happiness cross your mind?

If it did, and logic dictates that it did not, the thought of happiness was focused on something like last night’s movie or social occasion with friends, or this afternoon’s lunch or dinner later with family. Whatever your happiness was, it focused on something other than why you were coming here this morning.

Logic would also dictate that of all places and destinations, the cemetery is the least happy place in our lives. Yet something draws us here, for many of us year after year, and for some of us time after time, something irresistible yet seemingly inexplicable, all flowing from the memories that stir and the feelings that swell, a mixture of sad yet sweet so unique to the cemetery.

These myriad thoughts and feelings prompt another question. How will you feel when you leave?

Logic again dictates a broad range of feelings, from despondence to detachment and perhaps even relief. But having done what you know is the right thing to do, won’t you also feel a sense of contentment? Having done what you know is the loving thing to do, won’t you also feel a sense of satisfaction? And having revisited a love that has not died, won’t you feel a sense of gratitude? And when you add contentment, satisfaction and gratitude together, don’t they constitute a sense of happiness? Yes, precisely happiness.

No place is transformative in our lives in the same way as the cemetery. Only on the surface, only physically, the cemetery symbolizes the profound and singular transformation from life to death. But on deeper levels emotionally and spiritually, the cemetery gives rise to a most unique expression of happiness. Whatever the sadness of this moment, it will bring a kind of happiness that can be found nowhere else in our lives.