“From The Grave”: Stage + Studio by Annie Honebrink

Sweeping graves is my favorite cemetery job. I like reading all of the names and dates and imagining the stories each grave has to tell. Gazing over the sea of stone makes me feel small; and yet, there is something strangely comforting in humankind’s shared condition: death. I somehow feel connected to these hundreds of souls who have gone before me. I wonder how many of my stories are written in their lives as well.

Art has a special ability to carry the stories of the past into the present. First produced in 1841, Giselle is one of the oldest ballets still being performed today. This ballet is a result of the revolutionary Romantic Era. The story has survived centuries and still manages to be relevant today, 177 years later. That is the power of art—the power to transcend time. It is heartening to know that the people of the nineteenth century were not all that different from us of the twenty-first century.

I have read, watched, and written more stories than I can calculate—historical stories, modern stories, and futuristic stories—however, Giselle’s story means the most to me. Her joyful and light spirit, descent into madness, and redemptive forgiveness remind me why I fell in love with ballet and why I have always sought stories. Giselle teaches us about the human spirit and its ability to forgive, overcome, and redeem. There is a depth to this ballet that reaches a place in our souls that cannot often be touched. It carries vital lessons humanity needs to hear. How can we—in life—capture that forgiving spirit which Giselle attained in death? How can we overcome the Myrthas that dwell in our hearts and minds—the desires for vengeance and retribution? How can we discover that Truth Giselle found in the grave? The Truth that love—pure, true love—asks nothing in return. It overshadows betrayal, surrenders the broken pieces of a shattered heart, and defends that truth inside which said I love you from the very beginning.

I like to take walks in the cemetery at night. The moonlight makes the graves glow. I like to sit on the blacktop and think about my own story—what I’ve seen, who I am, where I’m going. It is comforting to be surrounded by so many names and remember humankind’s other shared condition: life. I find peace in knowing that so many lives have been lived before me—and will continue to live after—and though our stories may differ, we share more than we realize.

I have never seen any ghosts in my cemetery—or any Wilis for that matter. I have, however, heard stories about wealthy, selfish men and beautiful, forgotten gypsies. On my millions of walks down those well-worn paths, I have contemplated important decisions, rejoiced in new-found love, and faced my own Myrthas. Walking amidst those graves I have felt my heart soaring with promises of Forever and breaking with grief and loss. Those stones have seen me confront the madness of revenge and sometimes lose and sometimes win. We all have our own ways in which we learn these lessons life throws at us. For some of us it is in a ballet studio, for others it is in the audience of a theater. Some find the answers on a beach, other in a kitchen, others in a cemetery. Sometimes we have to learn the lessons again and again. Often times we must revisit them daily.

Perhaps Giselle is so special to me because she learned how to forgive in a cemetery—the place in which I learned most of my life lessons as a child and still as an adult.

Perhaps if we all took a moment to learn and understand the stories’ of our fellow beings, we would be able to find more common ground.  And compassion.

Perhaps even though I have never seen a ghost or Wili in my cemetery, Friday the Thirteenth will summon them from the grave!