Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726:
“Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”
Some things we do not talk about. In each of our families, certainly there were things we did not talk about. And as we grow older, those ancient rules for what cannot be spoken – truths which have guided our lives and which guided the lives of our ancestors – continue to set the boundaries of what is acceptable. We think of them as noble truths, and we are disgusted and alarmed when we hear others speak aloud of those forbidden things.
We do not talk about death in our culture. We do our best to head off death – more medicines, more treatments, another face-lift, a never-ending list of medical procedures, and more in laboratories, prepared to save us from death.
At Halloween, we find it easier to be frightened by ghosts and witches and skeletons than to be frightened by death. As for death, we do not speak of death.
At the time of Dia de muertos, The Day of the Dead, the people of Mexico go to the cemeteries, all the ages drawn together to honor the ancestors, to remember the dead. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey (wikipedia).
“On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.” – Frances Ann Day, Latina and Latino Voices in Literature.
“Now my soul is troubled… and what should I say? God, save me from this?” – John’s Gospel.
Yes, our souls are troubled, and we do not want to face the reality of death, although all of us have lost someone we love dearly. We honor them with our memories, we tell their stories to one another, and we continue to grieve, but still, we do not want to face the reality that we will die.
I think about my life differently, now that I am ensconced in the wisdom years. It has been part of my own life to have walked with others through the journey to the door of death, to walk with them as they have faced that moment. I have been fascinated, in a particular way, with death. But now, as I trace the years of my life, I have fewer years ahead of me, so many in the past. Where did those years go, those years when I was losing others, holding on to the last moments with the beloved, cherishing every moment?
And haven’t human beings always longed to know that death is only an entrance to another portal, another reality, perhaps even another life?
I am not writing about beliefs. No, what I want to touch is that place in us that fears and honors death. I want us to remember that we will die. I have the thought that when we truly honor death, when we live with the ever-present reality of death, we truly live. Then, we are grateful. Then, we see the beautiful. Then, we love those we are given. Then, there is no fussing about what is important and what is not important. Then, we go all out for what we want, we speak freely, we love. We drop our denial – and we all live in a bubble of denial – and walk courageously into the day we are given, this day, this moment, these people, this place, this hour.
Some of us will remember the beautiful movie, “The Trip to Bountiful.” Carrie Watts lives with her son and daughter-in-law. Carrie is restless, and to the younger folks, she is a burden. She longs to be free from her confinement, confinement because of her age and health. She wants her son to take her home, to Bountiful, her home. He refuses, and so Carrie takes her own journey to Bountiful. The sheriff, called by her son, helps her on the way to Bountiful. She returns to see the place, although everything has changed. Bountiful is not the Bountiful of her memories, but still, she has returned to Bountiful. Then, she goes home to her son and daughter-in-law, and sits contentedly in her place. She has seen Bountiful. Now, she is free.
What longing are you carrying? Go – go to it, now! Live completely, live into your whole self. Do it now.