by Collier Neely
The PRO Team is currently tackling the restoration of the Jewish Flats area of the cemetery. On Wednesday, July 8, while conducting the usual work, we witnessed a rare sight for a cemetery in the southeastern United States, a Buddhist procession moving through the Oakland.
We’re accustomed to visitors of all types, but on this day it was a bit out of the ordinary. The procession moved down the main road in the cemetery and began circling the graves of the Confederate soldiers near the women’s comfort station. The leader, a Buddhist master from Taiwan, waved a flag while he spread blessings over the graves. Behind him, followers threw rice, burned incense, and cast water over the graves of the soldiers. The procession moved through the remaining blocks of the Confederate section and back around the Confederate obelisk.
When approached by an inquisitive PRO Team member, a cameraman following the procession reported that the master had traveled from Taiwan to specifically bless the Confederate dead in Oakland Cemetery, who he believed were ignored and forgotten to history. The blessing is meant to show reverence and acknowledgement to these men who sacrificed their lives. In a gesture that linked the cultural importance of the moment, a Buddhist nun (or Bhikkuni) blessed members of the PRO Team with a splash of water and a traditional Buddhist prayer.
Amidst the controversy throughout the country over Confederate symbolism and its role in the history and future of American culture, it was striking to see a group of people led by a man from the other side of the world blessing the dead from a war that did not affect them.
This group believes it is necessary to remember those who have died defending what they believed in, regardless of the cause. Despite this interpretation and putting all politics aside, those in the procession were recognizing the lives of complete strangers and acknowledged their humanity.
In many ways, that is what we do on a daily basis at here at Oakland Cemetery: remembering others through constant restoration efforts the fundraising efforts to keep it all going.
by Collier Neely