On Nov. 1 every year, we make our pilgrimage to the cemeteries to honor our dead. But every day, plots of land become burial grounds for the unending line of our fellow human beings who depart for the afterlife. All of us, 100 million Filipinos now alive, will get our own burial plots
when our respective time is up, and the same goes for the rest of the 7.7 billion human beings who currently populate our planet. Save, of course, for the small minority who opt for cremation.
What’s sadly ironic is that those who cannot afford a plot of land for dwelling while alive will have an assured plot of ground for their remains when they leave this world.
Each plot of burial ground becomes perpetually withdrawn from human cultivation, habitation and any form of commerce. If this is not assured by law, it is secured by people’s fear of disturbing the spirits of those whose mortal remains rest on burial grounds.
As older generations of humanity give way to younger ones, the number and breadth of our cemeteries continue to expand, multiplying the hectarage of our limited land resources that get retired from the functional use of those who are living. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be the case.
In one of my nightly chats with my wife, I lamented the barren nature of cemeteries, and I thought aloud about the need to cultivate a culture of having a tree seedling planted on top of every burial plot in cemeteries. As the human remains inside break down, they provide nutrients to the tree sapling, which then becomes a living memorial representing a departed loved one. Because of what the tree represents, its care and survival become the guaranteed task of the family of the deceased.
If we successfully cultivate this cultural practice, our cemeteries no longer have to be desolate spaces, and they instead become sacred forests that provide much-needed greenery in our towns and cities — a modest but a sustainable contribution to humankind’s dire need to reforest our lands. These forest memorials can additionally serve as park, picnic and exercise grounds for the living.
The idea excited my wife so much, and her excitement pushed me to read up and find out if there are existing practices of the same kind in other countries. In my research, I came across two private enterprises abroad that are already doing business under the same concept of planting a tree for each burial remains.
A company called Memory Forest has established partnerships with cemeteries throughout the United States, and it advertises that it “plant(s) a memory tree with your loved ones’ cremated remains” which will “grow (into) a beautiful, enduring living memorial that will be cared for and endure for generations to come.” It publicizes a social purpose for its business, because it works to “replace tombstones with trees and cemeteries with forests.”
An Italian company called Capsula Mundi sells egg-shaped pods made of biodegradable material where human remains are placed for burial. “Ashes will be held in small egg-shaped bio urns, while bodies will be laid down in a fetal position in larger pods (the latter still in its conceptual phase). The (pod) will then be buried as a seed in the earth. A tree, chosen in life by the deceased, will be planted on top of it and serve as a memorial for the departed, and as a legacy for posterity and the future of our planet. Family and friends will continue to care for the tree as it grows. Cemeteries will acquire a new look and, instead of the cold grey landscape we see today, they will grow into vibrant woodlands.”
This concept of cultivating sacred groves, populated with trees that either represent or are nourished by the remains of our dearly departed, may yet provide thriving woodlands in the heart of our communities, immune from humans’ propensity to deforest. Who would want to cut down these trees and risk living in constant fear of the spirits?
For every human being that has walked on earth, a tree as a living memorial. For humanity, a planet with sacred forests.
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