Today was the Dia de los muertos celebration at our UU church. It was a day of remembrance for all those souls whom we have lost – our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, and significant others such as dogs, cats and other companions. Also, there was some thoughts about those opportunities that came and went, but the worst torment was the loss of a child. There were many people present, unfortunately everyone of them has lost someone dear to them and when thinking about the loss, they can only feel a pain, a sorrow and a grief and then a tear followed with a choke and a sob.
I have been with my personal problems of that type long enough that I can cope with them most of the time, but seeing my new friends, here in Bend, manifesting a state of unresolved grief was an unexpected grief to me. I am too sensitive to responding to other people’s emotions and behavior – sometimes it is referred to as the actions of mirror neurons, where we respond automatically to other people’s actions with muscle twitches and emotional vibrations. If I am in my usual state of mind, which in public is quite accepting of what’s going on, and someone yawns, I automatically yawn. Today, I discovered that when people manifest grief, it is like my yawn response, and I automatically get overtaken with grief. It is not really a bad thing, and I can cope with grief in small doses, especially if the cause of the pain is not my personal pain directly. All the same, the grief felt by me at that time was real.
What really got my grief nerve activated was the thought that the children present, there were about thirty of them, probably would not reach my age without far more tragedy than I have experienced. That was an abstract type of grief, but why shouldn’t their future grief, which I won’t experience be any less real to me than the past griefs of these adults I know? I never experienced those past griefs I only experience them now as an automatic response to their present grief. The only difference was my seeing these people’s physical manifestations, mostly on their faces, of these emotions, but not seeing the anticipated future emotions on the faces of these happy children – momentarily in a serious mood as they place items of remembrance on the Dia de los muertos alter.
This Mexican tradition of Dia de los muertos probably goes back to the Indians of pre-conquest times. It reminds me of their tradition of the butterflies, where children dress up as butterflies symbolizing the rising of the spirits of fallen warriors.
In the past I have probably been as rejecting of other people’s customs as everyone else, it is the human tradition of propinquity, that is the loving of what is near and dear. That life orientation has the down side of rejecting even hating everything that is far and unknown. A recent change of perspective came to me when I realized that everyone is trying to make the world, mostly their personal world, into a better place. That simple thought has made it easier for me to begin conversations with total strangers and try to see the world from their point of view. That thought gives me an easiness when talking to them that I didn’t used to have. I can be friendlier because all I need to do is try to see the world as they see it, and then I will be in agreement with them. Of course there will be myriad issues where we might disagree, but every one of those, when viewed from their eyes, will make sense. When it makes sense to me it is easy to find agreement with them.
The Dia de los muertos tradition has been known to me for a long time, but from afar. It always seem macabre and filled with bizarre symbols and actions, but when viewed from up close, as happened this morning, it was a wonderfully warm and life-giving experience. Thinking for a while about my lost loved ones and placing a small token to their remembrance on a public altar is a wonderful adjustment to my present life. That act puts me into a better living space, it makes me more human, it makes me relate in kinder and more sympathetic ways to everyone around me.
It is rarely brought to consciousness, but life is a wonderful thing to have participated in, no matter what happens.