Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

El Día de Santos

Once again, Halloween transitions overnight into Dias de Los Muertes-- the Days of the Dead. Today is All Saints Day, and tomorrow is All Souls Day-- the days when the veil between the living and the departed is most fragile, and the quick are said to commune with the dead. It's a Latin American tradition, and one that has taken hold over the years in the United States, as more and more Latinos settle in los Estados Unidos.

In the past, we've gone to Olvera Street to help celebrate this holiday; last year, I decided not to go, but discussed a little bit about Dias de Los Muertes. As I get older, these few days on the edge of October and the start of November take on a more special meaning for me, as more and more people I once knew are no longer living. While I enjoy the parade, the sweets, and the atmosphere when I go to these celebrations and festivals, the meaning behind the Day of the Dead has started to permeate my thoughts, and I reflect, commemorate, and celebrate the friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and relatives that are no longer here.

Sometimes I think other nations and cultures have a healthier attitude and approach to death than we do. Here in the States, we've clinicalized and sanitized death to the point that it has become rather removed. I've never seen death naturally, in the home or in another environment; for me, death is something that happens in hospitals. In America, if someone is sick, whoosh! Off to the hospital, off to the intensive care unit. From there, it's a quick transition to the funeral home, the crematory, the cemetery. There's not much sense of natural transition, of a connection between the dying person's life and the state of transition that they're entering. Once the person is dead, people's reactions differ. Some choose to remember them, speak of them, embrace them still. Others refuse to speak of the dead, and to them, they are completely dead.

In Mexico, the attitude and cultural values surrounding death are so different. My great-aunt in Mexico visits my great-grandfather's grave during Dia de Los Muertos, and keeps his memory alive. To her, he isn't so much dead as he is simply just part of another world. He is still a part of her, still a part of life-- it's just that he physically isn't there anymore. Regardless of whether there is actually a next world or not, I find it a more healthy perspective. Even if a person is truly gone, they leave something of themselves with us. Sometimes it's positive, sometimes negative-- often, it's a mix of both. Remembering everything is what keeps them human, what keeps them with us.

To me, a person is not truly dead as long as there is someone still alive who remembers them. Within the strands of memory, we can see them, we can hear them (I know for us deaf, that may not be possible, never be possible-- but I've been told by hearing people that sometimes they dream of the dead, and they distinctly "hear" their voices just as they were when the speakers were alive), we interact with them. Sometimes this remembrance is private, personal, of a commemorative nature; sometimes it's a celebration, as Dias de Los Muertos expresses.

Once the last living person who remembers a dead person themselves die, then that person is truly dead. The same is true for an event, or historical occurrence. Right now we still have many people who remember World War II; the number of those who remember the Great Depression or the Roaring 20's are fewer. Those who can clearly remember or actually participated in the Great War are scarcer still, and the pool of those humans around the globe who were present in the year 1900, when Queen Victoria still sat on the throne, is miniscule compared with the total population (but their numbers have grown over the years-- we seem to be developing a larger pool of centenarians than ever before). There's a great site chronicling some of these long-lived people-- good way to kill a little time, and muse about the lives some of these people led.

But I digress. To me, many people in my life who have died are not truly dead; they are just around the corner, or beyond the hill. I can't see them, but I know they're there. Perhaps today and tomorrow, during these Days of the Dead, they are with me, just as I am still with them.

Viva el Amor Eterno

I do not fear death
as I know those who have died before me
will welcome me with their loving embrace. My senses will be awakened by the sweetness
of the Dia De Los Muertos yearly celebration. I shall be remembered for eternity,
as my decedents will be preparing
and adorning their altars in my honor
and for other beloved. There will be a sense of excitement
as they will be creating my favorite foods,
bringing me gifts that my soul has inspired
as they welcome me back. At my altar,
there will be the lovely aroma of the copal,
and a glass of water that will quench my thirst
when I arrive from my long journey.

The salt and sweets will remind me of
the bitterness and sweetness of life. I will see my family spending the day
lovingly cleaning my grave
and adorning it with zempasúchil (marigolds),
baby breath, candles and more. There will be great day of
laughter, music, and poetry.

I yearn to hear their stories of my life
that they will tell their children
so they may know who I am. Yes, it will be a joyous occasion
as I will be reunited
with my dear family and friends! Thank you, gracias.
I know I will not be forgotten. As your memories of me will continue
from generation to generation.
- Ginette Rondeau