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The Evergreen Cemetery

on January 1, 2019

The Evergreen Cemetery has nothing of the dark, morbid and ghostly atmosphere people tend to associate with graveyards or see in the movies. It is a sunlit, open space with tall palm trees and mountains in the background. It feels paradoxically full of life.

At 11 am on a Monday, there are not a lot of people there. Other than me and a gardener, only one woman with bright pink neon shoes can be seen from a distance. She seems to visit this place regularly. There’s not a moment of hesitancy in her navigation of the cemetery. She goes in, puts her flowers by a grave and walks away without looking back. But along with me and the rows of graves, she leaves behind a choir of birds and other small animals moving around in the surrounding bushes too fast to be spotted or identified. Even on a cloudy day with no birds around, the cemetery would be a tiny isle amid the business of Oakland streets and the music and honking of passing cars.

Though it may seem strange, even what’s written on some of the gravestones feels more wistful than melancholy. On a plaque devoted to a husband and wife, a date of the sunrise and sunset of their lives is engraved, not the date of birth and the day of passing.

At the very back of the cemetery, there’s a memorial devoted to a tragedy and a sort of a mystery that still makes people wonder about the limits of obedience and indoctrination—the Jonestown Memorial. It’s well-kept and clean. Two bouquets of pink flowers indicate this place is not forgotten. It seems to make a contrast to the dark reality that a leader of a group can arise who is so charismatic that his abuse is tolerated, his orders to violate others are carried out, his trickery is believed to be magic, and 900 people would be willing to die at his command. It is a hopeful message that times like that see their end in the form of pink flowers in a sunny little graveyard surrounded by colorful houses and palm trees.

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