“He honored life…”
But have the living given proper honor to Jack Kerouac, America’s one true spokesman, who plumbed the deepest depths of sorrow and climbed to the highest ledge of beauty and joy?
His grave at Edson Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts, is marked with a simple slab with the above inscription, the names of the names of the grave’s two tenants — John L. Kerouac, “Ti Jean,” and his third wife Stella Sampas, and their dates of birth and death. Nearby are the graves of Stella’s mother, father and brother.
Pilgrims to Kerouac’s grave leave tokens and talismans — piles of pebbles, beer bottles, cigarettes, spare change and ballpoint pens.
Lowell does its best to remember its native son — there’s an annual Kerouac festival and even a Kerouac park with stone monuments engraved with quotes from his prose and poems.
And people abound who can point out the Catholic church and Catholic school he attended in the city, who can talk knowingly about his brief stint as a sports reporter for the Lowell Sun, and even folks who can point you to the bars where Jack used to drink — and oldtimers who actually drank with Jack (or at least say they did).
But stand at Kerouac’s grave on a cold day in January as the wind rushes off the Merrimack River and stirs the brown grasses and dry leaves. The winter sun lays low in the sky. It casts a certain slant of light. The light has the heft of cathedral tunes.
Kerouac’s grave is just one of thousands in the sprawling cemetery. They’re all just as dead. Their bones are all just as bleached and brittle. Their names and dates will erode and fade from their stones — and so will Jack Kerouac’s, despite the pebbles and bottles and cigarettes and change.
Standing at this holy tragic place I hear the rattle of bones and the riddles of life. And I hear Jack Kerouac speaking, his words pouring out, his words slurred by dharma and drink:
“Love is all.”
“Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream.”
“It all ends in tears anyway.”
“Something good will come of all things yet.”
Pilgrims, hear those words, and say them like a prayer, when you stand at Kerouac’s grave.