The guardian of the dead

by Cecilia Resio

Ogni uscita è un’entrata in un altrove.

Tom Stoppard

Burying beetle, gravedigger, ditcher, digger. By these names people call, often with scorn or spite, the person who takes care of the dead. The metropolitan Charon, the spectator of the show of pain, the man that lives among tears and tilled soil, under the shadow of leafy trees, wardens of secrets and prayers.
The Montmartre Cemetery, in Paris, welcomes visitors, mourning people, widows, orphans, tourists, it opens its marble and bronze arms to silence, thoughts and meditation. Compared to the Père Lachaise, this cemetery is less spectacular, in terms of architectural beauty and sepulchres of illustrious deceased, but it has a mysterious appeal made of decadence and austerity, it looks all the ages of the world and slows down the blood circulation through the veins, as if it expanded time, articulating a new rhythm, inventing it.
Here I met Victor, the guardian of the dead. I gave him this nickname, and made him smile. That day, Victor was dressed in Klein blue. He was wearing his suite, as if they didn’t belong to him, as if he happened to live in his clothes by chance, without the intention of having them on. He told me he came from the Caribbean and that he believed in many gods. He accompanied me to the graves of people that are famous even after death: the tombs of Dalida, Truffaut, Berlioz and then Offenbach, Zola and the Lady of the Camellias, the clever and passionate Alphonsine Plessis.
But at that moment I was interested in the life of the living, in his life above all. So I kindly asked him to tell me about his job,
I started to listen as I kept my eyes on the tombstones, on the oxidized characters of surprising green, the marble faces altered by pain, reading solemn or amorous epitaphs, accompanied by the sound of magpies and noisy crows.
I was walking among words as powerful as rest, love, compassion, eternal, fatherland, dust, paradise. Victor told me he couldn’t get used to the pain of others, and sometimes, during funerals and burials, he was so moved that he burst into tears. Then he told me about will-o’-the-wisps, about the maintenance of graves, about the must that grows following the rhythm of the rain, about the snails that silently creep on the marble, leaving their shining signature.
When we said goodbye, I thought he was a brave person, not because he worked with the dead, but because he was capable of recognizing his emotions, he could let the deepest and mysterious feelings pass through him. Without any judgement, any pity, any fear.
Showing great respect for the lives of others,
even those that have come to an end.