Better To Spend Your Time at Cemeteries Than At Parties

On my way to my Phoenix Rescue Mission today, where I have been volunteering on Fridays, I stopped by White Tanks Cemetery.

White tanks Cemetery is owned by Maricopa County and is used for burying indigent persons — several thousand, in fact, since it opened in 1994.

Here’s what it looked like this morning between 7:15-7:30am:

It’s about 300 yards over to the trees in the distance. Between me and the far fence is nothing but hundreds of coaster-sized metal markers and dirt and gravel.

Looking 90 degrees to the left of the above picture, it is about 250 yards down to the far fence.

Here is one of the hundreds of grave markers, each about the size of a coaster that you might sit your ice tea glass on. This one is the marker of Eleanor McKowan. The date — November 21, 2013 — indicates the day of her death. We know nothing else about her. The marker is screwed into a metal stake, keeping it 4 or 5 inches above the ground.

As I walked along I saw a fellow spraying the ground. A long hose he held was part of a sprayer and a 200-gallon tank sitting on the bed of a flatbed truck.  The young man spraying gave me a friendly wave, put down the hose he was using and walked toward me.  He struck up a conversation.  We were the only 2 people in the cavernous, barren cemetery.

Can you guess what he was spraying on this arid plot of land?

Pre-emergent weed killer.  That’s right.  Weed killer.  Look again at my above photos. Pretty barren out in that cemetery, would you say?

Hearing it was weed killer he was spraying made me laugh. If it weren’t such a bleak, desolate looking place, now that would be down right funny.

“The county doesn’t want anything growing out here,” he said.

He proceeded to walk me across the cemetery where yesterday 2 more souls were buried.  The ground had been covered over already and you could hardly tell the ground had ever been disturbed.

The landscape guy will turn 36 next month, he said. He started telling me his story. He himself has been out of prison for only 9 months. The grandmother who raised him died while he was in prison.  That’s when he decided to get his life together.  Last November a landscaping company (who contracts with the county to spray the cemetery) took a chance with this guy after he was released from prison.

“I’m doing great so far.”

As we talked he said he’d been at the cemetery since about 5:30am.  I met him about 7:15am. He said his hours with the landscaping company are from 5am to 1:30pm. “But I usually get a couple of hours of overtime every day.”

Wiping his brow and looking out over the desert cemetery, he said “I don’t mind spraying out here. It reminds me of where I could easily have ended up. With some of the decisions I made, it could have easily happened. I guess I got the chance that some of the souls out here never had.”

As we shook hands, I said, “I’m real proud of you, man.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

As I wished him well and started walking toward my car, this verse from Ecclesiastes 7 popped into my mind:


It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.


Looking back at the man spraying weed killer on the inhospitable desert, I said myself, “Now there is a man who has taken those words to heart.”

2 thoughts on “Better To Spend Your Time at Cemeteries Than At Parties

Leave a Reply to Ruth Wegman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s