Sunshine and Shadows in Acres of Diamonds
Not wishing to disappoint the program committee, I will, therefore, submit my thoughts to you in the form of a paper to be read by one who I am sure can visualize the picture I wish to portray, I confess the subject is rather unique. It differs from the subject matter submitted in papers written to enlighten us on the problems that come to all of us in our daily routine of every day life, no matter what our environments may be. But when we take a retrospective glance at our past experiences as cemetery men, in our daily endeavor for betterment, we can only admit that the subject conveys and expresses the sentiment that covers the field in which we labor.
I feel that I am deeply indebted to Mr. Conwell for the words, "Acres of Diamonds," that was the subject of one of his masterful lectures some years ago. I was deeply impressed by the way and manner in which he applied them to the lives of men in the field of human endeavor, and by his permission I want to use them in a manner that may lead our thoughts to the "Acres" that have been given into our care, where God's "Diamonds" have been laid away for a time into mother-earth to remain there until the day dawns, when they shall surely shine again.
In our most thoughtful mood we bring back to memory our early experiences, our trials and difficulties, the solving of problems that were counted as rights sacred by our forefathers from time immemorial. The changing from the old to the new, in order to keep pace with modern ideas advanced by men having visions of higher and nobler ideas that in due time would revolutionize the old order of things and be the means of adding grace and dignity to that part of the earth's surface where the human family sleep, into a beautiful garden, has been your task and mine. What we have accomplished will be an exhibition to a marked degree to what extent we may have dedicated our lives to our work. Future generations, I am sure, will applaud our efforts if they are in line with the standards adopted by this organization to follow nature in her planning and designing, as far as lies in our power, so that our work when completed will be a field of "Acres" exhibiting art out-of-door.
In view of the marked changes would it be strange if men should marvel at what has been accomplished in the past four decades or since the birth of this organization, when a small body of men in convention assembled saw the dawn of a new era and banded themselves into an organization for a purpose, because of having coordinate views in the affairs of cemetery management, as well as development that must in due time lead to cooperation and betterment in cemeteries that are the "Acres of Diamonds" scattered, not only over the North American continent; but over the whole world. In the struggle for the higher ideals let us not forget the moments of sunshine as well as the moments of shadows, for they are a part of the every day life of those, whose souls are quickened by the inspiration gleaned from lessons in nature, for nature is the school of our environment in which we live. In it we listen with delight to the song of the birds and are charmed; by the whispering voices that come to us from the sighing breezes that kiss the flowers as well as the trees.
Perhaps it was the chairman's wish that I relate some of my personal experiences during almost forty years of continuous life in cemetery work, some of it being spent in the development of parks, playgrounds and civic improvements, that he wished me to, write an "Letting the Sunshine into a place of Shadows." In the early days of my experiences I found myself pondering over the individual tastes of the bereaved in expressing sincere grief and sorrow for those dear to them and lost for a while, and the method employed, what they believed to be their sacred duty to perform, some outward expression in memory, be it in the erecting of monument, the building up of a huge terrace about their lot, enclosing them with hedges, coping, iron or wooden fences where permissible, the lavish use of weeping trees, especially the use of the willow, anything that would in any way give expression to their bereavement and sadness. All this was interesting to me because the scene when finished portrayed a picture of shadows where even the flowers in their dismal environment failed to bloom for the want of a ray of sunshine. To brighten these places and let the sunshine in was the problem for me to solve, and is the problem that must be solved by everyone into whose hands are given supervision and care of the "Diamonds" laid away for a time in God's Acres. To me it soon became a pleasure for I found that by personal contact and intelligent reasoning, the rays of sunshine penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of the men and women open to conviction who observed with keen interest the results obtained in the changing from the old to the new order of things in the development of the new additions on modern lines. For in the progress of developments they for themselves, could, in the final analysis, visualize a beautiful garden, where the somber doleful, uninviting scenes would finally pass into oblivion.
In my daily efforts in reconstruction, to bring harmony between past misguided efforts and natures own plan—for if we are at all successful in our endeavors we, must follow nature and learn to imitate her in many ways—guided by such influences the task before me became work most agreeable, for I found quite a steady response of cooperation on the part of those with whom it was my privilege to often meet and discuss the early ways and methods of their ancestors, to which they had fallen heir, in the performance of what they believed to be their duty to build something in some way contrary to nature that would be outstanding and in its appearance differ from that executed in memory by their neighbor. In many instances I found it only necessary to explain certain reasons for contemplated changes to gain their hearty approval and confidence and when the picture of the garden scene, I had in language tried to portray, became a reality, their happiness revealed itself in an atmosphere of sunshine.
May I at this time say a word of encouragement, as well as advice, to those young in this great organization who have entered the field of cemetery management in neglected Acres where reconstruction is the key to advancement on modern lines in landscape planning as we see it today. It is well to give an exhibition of your ability to prove your worth in being able to master the problems. By all means court the confidence of your people or your daily efforts for betterment may be full of shadows and your ideals go on the rocks. Diplomacy is one of the prerequisites of an efficient superintendent. He who can sympathize and bring sunshine to those who come in sorrow from homes where shadows have fallen will surely gain the favor and respect of the bereaved. He will play a leading part in community betterment and will ever be upheld in his efforts when making more beautiful the "Acres of Diamonds" in which he labors.
Perhaps the thoughts and sentiments that I wish to leave with you in this convention can better be expressed in the following lines:
God's Acre is planted with diamonds
Whose luster the world could not see
Till death had polished the treasure
To a beauty that ever shall be.
In soft holy silence they rest there,
Safe guarded in crypt or in green
And like a rare gem in its setting,
They glow with a heavenly sheen.
Under full gleam of the sunshine
Under soft veil of the shade,
These delicate diamonds now resting,
Will never lose luster, nor fade.
The years that sweep over the acres,
The memories deep as the heart,
Shall increase the worth or the diamonds;
From whom we have seemed to part.
But they're ours and God's for the ages
They are treasures that love cannot lose,
They are kept for the crown of adorning,
When he His crown jewels shall choose.
Do we tread the soft acres in sorrow?
Do our tears bathe the flowers and grass,
As hidden from view these fair diamonds
Regard not our grief as we pass?
Be comforted heart that is lonely,
Be grateful that treasures are there,
You will walk across "Acres of Diamonds"
Whose worth is beyond all compare.
Thank God for the beautiful setting,
He gives to His jewels and gems,
For the diamonds are placed for His purpose,
And never a stone He condemns.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention
August 22, 23, 24 and 25, 1927