For the past several months, I’ve been quietly grieving my last year of living in Chiapas. I had my last birthday, last week we celebrated Ruthie’s. Today’s last was particularly difficult, since next year at this time we will be in a place where there’s no cultural framework for celebrating the dead. There will be no alters, no cemetery visits, no marigolds, and no sweet bread.
I tried to hold on and savor it all the best I could for one last time.
But that misses the point of the Day of the Dead. It’s a day to remember that nothing will last, and the more we deny or attempt to hang on, the more unhappy we feel. It’s a chance to greet life’s mortality; a day to mark the passing of time, and the passing of people who have influenced you.
It’s a day that speaks more to me about life than it does of death.
Life is a burst of color; here one day and gone the next. Armloads of flowers are lugged for kilometers in order to break petals into intricate designs paying homage to the beauty of the fleeting time we are granted among the living. It is sometimes agonizing, and what I have learned in Latin America is that you should never leave anyone alone in their agony; thus the parties at the cemetery. It is sometimes a cruel joke, like skeletons dancing.
It’s a chance for food made with love to defy the time/space continuum, satisfying spirits in other worlds.
This is a great chance for me to let go of my western understanding of reality. Friends from both Bolivia and Mexico have shared with me beautiful rituals around food, gratitude and fellowship (connecting with ancestors, the earth, God and the growers) and I participate with them in faith not unlike the disciples who ate fish on the shore with the resurrected Christ.
Yesterday I took some time to make a recipe of my ancestors. In it I sought to honor Eugene Miller, Anna Hot and Ralph Miller, Mary Wyles and Raymond Stapleton, Gladys Miller and Leon Frye, Chester Frye, and Hattie Mae Treese, and the many ancestors I never got to meet. I made it to thank them for the gifts they have given in creating me and surrounding me, and I welcomed them to my table.
It is a celebration of the cycle of life; a harvest of fruits which came from seeds once a part of a dead plant’s last offering.
Everything alive right now will someday die, and every dead thing, in one way or another, continues to be a part of that which is living. The day of the dead is an enthusiastic affirmation of our interconnected relationship. And paying attention to that makes me feel deeply hopefully and miraculously alive.