day of the dead

November 1st Day of the Dead. My ancestors are waiting at the gate, dressed in heavy winter coats with a dusting of snow on the collar. The air smells of ancient Ukrainian pine forests and clean running streams. I coax them in and they sit, throw back shot glasses of the vodka I have left on my altar, pull off their gloves and warm their hands by the fire.

I’m so glad to see you, I say. It’s been a rough year.

My grandmother beckons me to her. Sit, Maideleh, she says.  Tell me what troubles you. She tucks a strand of hair behind my ear and I catch her familiar scent: wild stormy seas and the sorrows I had been too young to question. I tell her that my friends have headaches or stomach aches, can’t sleep or have started drinking again. We are half out of our minds with grief over the daily atrocities…the tweets and rants, the rape of our daughters and of our earth with impunity, with entitlement. 

 I say we are suffering from a collective anxiety, trying to fathom the stealthy ever encroaching fascism and it is unthinkable. But when we wake in the middle of the night in a sweat, it is suddenly very thinkable, the heavy boots once again searching in the dark for our front door. The storm is gathering and it’s hard to feel safe or secure. Underneath whatever we are doing with our hours, our days and months, these fears swirl through the collective unconscious, finding the cracks and fissures in our foundation. Finding the place where we give up and turn away in despair.

We tell ourselves that in the not so long ago memory of the Soviet Union, South America, Eastern Europe. Africa, our ancestors endured and survived much longer more brutal regimes than this one.  But still. Our leaders have ripped off their masks and we are staring at the hideous, deformed faces of Greed, Corruption and Cruelty.

Child, darlinka, she croons. You want to know how we survived? We had faith. And when our faith ran out, we had each other. We lit candles on Friday nights and said thank you, thank you for each small blessing. We knew that kindness built community, that it was the fabric that wove the web that sustained us.  We grew food and medicinal herbs and shared them. We made alliances that crossed political barriers and we grew strong. And stronger. We tore down walls. Toppled governments everyone said were too big to fail. I do not mean to make it sound easy. I mean to say we did it.

 We are asking you to keep our stories alive. Under the skin and bone of your DNA lies the dark mystery of your inheritance. We are here to tell you that you already have within you all the brilliance, power and beauty needed to restore your world. We’ve passed down resiliency, intuition, generosity, cooperation, empathy, humor, self-reliance. Vision and imagination. The capacity for joy. Courage even when you are afraid. We have given you everything you need to survive.

Do whatever it takes to strike your own spark, because this is how your light keeps getting brighter. Dance. Write. Hike. Cook a meal for a sick friend.  Leave your regrets, like a busted tv, on the sidewalk for garbage collection day. This is how you overcome darkness, how you find the keyhole, the underground passage, the crack in the armor, the green shoot pushing up through the winter of your desolation. This is how you say yes to life.

Our ancestors are gesturing to us from over the gate today, tossing hard candies to get our attention, poking each other in the ribs and laughing, telling bawdy jokes.  Invite them in with roses and wine and their favorite accordion music. Take the seeds they offer and plant them in the tangle and promise of the world waiting to bloom. Make their favorite soup. Ask to hear again the old tales we have almost forgotten. About the village innocent who outwits the bully, the buried treasure and where the map is to be found. About the wolf and the bear who know the way home. About the unseen forces that arrive when we call for them.  Our ancestors are here to bless us with the living waters of their grief and their joy. They are here to remind us that love never fails.

They are asking us to believe that our love is enough, that forgiveness is possible, and that we are here to add the rhythm section of our hearts to the garage band tuning up to the ecstatic chords of yes and yes and the holy refrain of thank you.

Imagine that our imperfect love is perfect.  Imagine that when we rise mute and disheartened, weighed down by despair, we knock on the door of our heart and say…Get up honey. It’s time to put your red dress on. Time to add your song, your dance, your heartbeat to the gathering at the edge of the forest, at all the fast running waters, at the center of the center of your life. Imagine believing that our love, our broken hallelujah, is exactly what the world needs today.

6 thoughts on “day of the dead

  1. Thanks, again, Nancileh. Rhe times ARE hard–all I want to do is get my pacemkaer turned off, so I can be excused from witnessing The Demise. Kaiser is denying me that gift, Parkinson’s progresses, my eyes are very going bad, I’m terrified of my brain being washed upon the shoals and dessicating. Oy VEH! Saying the feels good, cracks the shell to allow the light in. Oy VEH! Oy VEH! Oy HEH! ha-ha-ha-HA!

    I adore you!


    1. oy veh indeed dearest David. Your eyes may be going bad but there’s nothing wrong with your brian. I’ll let you know when it’s time to worry. until then, all my love, N


      1. Thanks for that support–my creative brain IS fully intact but the periphery is getting kinky and tangled . . .


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