Avery Lane’s gravesite is the centerpiece of what may be the saddest row in the North Fairfield Friends Cemetery.

Several yards to the left is the grave of Bobby Dee Lane, who died when he was 1 year old in August of 1969. Next to Bobby Dee is Jeffrey Scott Lane, who died in October 1969 at the age of 4.

In between the two Lane boys and Avery is Nathan P. Morin, who was 10 when he died in 2002.

Those aren’t the only kids’ graves in the small cemetery on Route 104 in North Fairfield.

A little up the hill from Avery is James J. Zinkovitch, who was 4 when he died in 1977.

At the top of the hill right near the white picket fence that surrounds the quiet, well-kept graveyard on Route 104 are the adjoining graves of Dana Christopher Jones, who was a few days short of two months old when he died in 1984, and Ronald R. Trask who, like Avery, was 6 when he died in 1966.

There are undoubtedly more children’s graves in the cemetery, which has been the final resting place for people going back more than two centuries.

The cemetery is dotted with flowers and American flags. Most of the children’s graves are decorated with flowers, and a few have small statues of angels. Many of the graves in the cemetery have planters — one of a frog in motorcycle gear that says “Keep on Truckin’.”

Some of the graves, including Nathan Morin’s, are etched with a photo.

But none look quite like Avery’s, which features a wrought-iron bench with a bright red cushion and cats, pinwheels, shepherd’s crooks with wind chimes and a lantern and a small crabapple tree, among other things.

Her gravesite made the news last month when it was discovered that the decorations had been trashed, the wrought iron bench with the carvings of cats thrown down the embankment behind. There was outrage and donations to the reward fund set up to find the vandals.

The story of what happened to Avery’s grave was tailor-made for readers to work themselves up into a true 21st century moral outrage lather:

The angelic blond, blue-eyed sunny little girl died of the flu a couple years ago. Died, in fact, in the arms of a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy who had responded the 911 call. That deputy, Jacob Pierce, is also a sergeant with the National Guard’s 133rd Engineers, who, upon his recent return from Afghanistan, broke down at her grave last month when he discovered the vandalism.

A mother, grieving and confused, who couldn’t understand why her daughter’s grave had been vandalized three times in the past 18 months, including twice that early May weekend.

Avery’s 2-year-old sister asking her mom if Avery would “come down from the sky” and a photo of the child — another angelic blue-eyed blonde — kissing Avery’s headstone.

Donations pouring in from readers to a reward fund to catch the vandals.

Outrage from those readers, not only at the vandals, but at the cemetery owners — the Quakers — who just don’t seem to understand how important it is to festoon a child’s grave with pinwheels, windchimes, statues and the like.

Wait. What? And that’s where the story kind of went off the rails.

Because like most stories tailor-made for our 21st century Facebook and YouTube lives, the bigger picture details somehow got lost.

The Religious Society of Friends — Quakers — practices an unadorned, “plain” tradition that extends to their cemeteries. That said, they were sympathetic to Avery’s family.

“Losing a little girl has got to be so sad, so we kind of overlook stuff for a while,” Ron Fenlason, sexton of the Friends Cemetery Association, told the Morning Sentinel last month. “The stone is beautiful. Nobody touched that or anything. We’ve never had a problem there.”

Still, reader comments ranged from those knocking the Friends for their beliefs to blaming them for not making the cemetery’s rules clearer to Avery’s family when she was buried there.

Some strangers, according to Avery’s mother, have left trinkets of their own on her gravesite. Kind of an in-your-face to those who would say the site is inappropriately decorated for the religion’s beliefs.

We Americans are very, very big on freedom of religion, but too frequently only when it agrees with our own views.

This isn’t a commentary on Avery’s family or how they choose to mourn her.

But here’s some food for thought. Pierce just returned from Afghanistan, where, many would say, he was “fighting for our freedoms.”

We can all agree that freedom of religion is part of the foundation that this country is built on.

It’s hard to imagine the interpretation of the Constitution that supports freedom of religion as long as it’s my religion, not yours.

Most people would be outraged if someone demanded that the cemetery that belongs to their church had less rights than strangers who didn’t share their beliefs.

And how does ridiculing another religion translate to properly grieving for, or honoring, a child who died?

It’s a given that cemeteries are for the living, not the dead. Depending on your beliefs, the dead are somewhere else. Or nowhere at all.

Most of the graves of the other children in the cemetery are adorned with new flowers. Even though some of them died decades ago, they are still remembered and cherished. Their families’ grief isn’t less or love for those children isn’t more for lack of elaborate decoration.

Avery’s family has every right to grieve in their own way. How that translates to how her gravesite looks is between her and the cemetery’s owners.

For the rest of us, it can be a learning opportunity.

That sometimes, as painful as it is that a beautiful little girl died before her time — not unlike those other beautiful kids buried in Avery’s row and the rest of the cemetery — nothing is gained by demeaning or dismissing other human beings and their beliefs.

You know what would be really beautiful? If that “reward” money, assuming the vandals are not caught, went to the cemetery association to keep the North Fairfield Friends Cemetery as beautiful and peaceful as it is now, benefiting all those who mourn someone buried there.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected] Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.

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