From time to time we all like to check in on places or things that, across years come to mark the passage of time. For some it’s a museum, for others a landmark or their old neighborhood. For me it’s the cemetery of my hometown.

I visited it first when I was 6 years old, accompanying my father to his father’s grave. I was in a summer camp when my grandfather died and only found about his demise upon my return, missing out on the important ritual of his funeral. This led to weeks of nightmares, imagining my grandfather stuck in some wooden box, falling into a dark hole. That was death for me.

Over the years, I visited the grave of my grandfather, my best friend is somewhere, a classmate who died of food poisoning. Sometimes I just slipped in to walk down the rows of graves, looked at the variety of gravestones, admired the constant care and love relatives showed for the ones they missed. Visiting the cemetery, reminded me of my own mortality but also of the amazing opportunity we’ve all been given the day we were born. You feel a tiny tad more alive when you go to a cemetery because you’re still alive. You don’t belong there yet. One day you’ll be there. But not today.

Both my parents died 3 years ago. This changed the way I perceive my visits to the cemetery. Time reverses now. I go back in time and think of the times when I was a kid. I imagine my parents being younger than I am now, even while I see an anterior future of which death is the inevitable outcome.

This is what I go to the cemetery for now. To stop the clock, to take stock. It’s not about seeing my father’s gravestone or the roses on my mother’s grave. It’s about going back in time. Remembering the little things in life, not the big events. It’s like remembering vacations: you do remember the big things, the landmarks. But the real memories are the loving hug of your wife after a nice dinner, the stolen kiss, or the sight of my kid chasing the pigeons in Venice.

I’ve eaten in amazing restaurants and I enjoyed each experience tremendously.  And we often measure our enjoyment on Michelin stars or positive reviews on Yelp, but it’s the fries from the streets of Amsterdam or the ice cream from your hometown ice cream parlor that open the floodgates of beloved food memories.

A famous German writer, Walter Benjamin, experienced “the way into his labyrinth” of his own past, “led over the Bendler Bridge” whose “gentle arch became my first hillside,” as he described that fairly unremarkable Berlin landmark in a late memoir of childhood.

“Everyone has encountered certain things, which occasioned more lasting habits than other things,” Banjamin added. “Through them, each person developed those capacities which helped to determine the course of his life.”

A bridge, fries with currywurst or a piece of art in your favorite museum, which help to cope with the impending abyss. All of us have these places or objects that function as mirrors we hold up that look different to everyone who sees it, and whose beauty lies as much in us, and our capacity to dream, as it does in my wife’s eyes or my daugher’s sweet breath.