Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Other cultures are awash with death rites that have endured the test of time. One such tradition in Latin culture relates to rituals around death. For example, Hispanic culture often includes a novena after death, a nine-day period following the funeral when mourners recite the rosary in the name of the dead child. Families are often left undisturbed during this period.
Another during this time of year, El Dia de los Muertos (or some version of it), or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated throughout much of Latino America from Mexico to Guatemala to Brazil to Spain. This enduring holiday is recognized every November 2, and during this time of remembrance, all eyes turn toward the dead. It includes eccentric altars, offerings of food and drink and even fine fabrics. The rituals last four days. Families stay awake the entire night of October 31. If a child has died, family members await the return of the child’s spirit, known as Angelitos. A tiny candle is lit for each child and morning mass is recited.
Colorful paper banners, called papel picado (Spanish for "perforated paper") can be found hanging about the streets during this time. Usually made of tissue paper but sometimes of more durable plastic, the cut banners are hung together like a string of flags. For the Dia de los Muertos, the designs feature skeletons, skulls, crosses, and tombstones. Some artists create intricate designs that take many hours to make. Because of their fragility and the time spent creating them, cut-paper banners are themselves symbols of the transitory quality of life (AZ Central).
"The tradition of papel picado can be traced to pre-Columbian times when papermaking thrived throughout Mesoamerica. The bark of the amate tree, a type of fig tree, was used to make a rich colored brown or beige paper. Cut-paper figures used in ceremonies were created to represent any number of human and animal spirits. Today, a group of indigenous people, the Otomi from the village of San Pabilto, continue to make cut-paper figures from their handmade amate paper" (http://www.crizmac.com/free_resources/papelpicado.cfm).
The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast loves (Mexican writer, Octavio Paz).
Death is an accepted part of life for many heritage-consistent Hispanic families, integrated into daily routines, where children are included in rituals and mourners express their emotions openly (Corr, et al, 2006). Death is a ubiquitous theme where “it is in the literature, on murals, in cutout paper figures and on the streets” (Irish, et al, 1993, p. 76). In Latino culture, the dead are not separated from the living; rather, they continue their presence in the family as grievers often do not relinquish bonds.
"This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
death (152x)dead (69x)pain (54x)suicide (7x)hurt (6x)kill (4x)dangerous (3x)breast (2x)steal (1x)"
I know, I know, it's not really applicable here. It doesn't really apply to my blog about thanatos (and eros) but as a feminist thinker, I cannot help but to find this amusing. And wow, I've said death/dead more than 220 times. That must surely be a record.
But hey, to really understand life and living, I believe, we must first understand death and dying. Right?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Marcus Aurelius, though not a self-proclaimed Stoa, was identified with Zeno's philosophies of Stoicism. I've often grappled with hellenistic ideas of austerity that spring from detachment.
But there are things I do appreciate about Stoa thought: The virtues upheld are ones to which most humans should indeed strive- courage, justice, self-control, wisdom- while rejecting the less desirable inclinations of the material world such as irrationality, greed, corruption, and lust. Life lived in the latter is vacuous at its best and tyrannical at its worst. Aurelius issues his caution against living mindlessly, superfluously. Time is short, he warns.
So he calls for humans to become good.
What I hear Aurelius saying is: Meditate on the connection between all things within the Universe. Be mindful of all things around you. Walk, do not run. Seek truth. Do your duty. Treat others, including animals, with generosity and decency. Develop virtue. And in realizing the finitude of the material world, confront Death. Either teach or tolerate. Abandon vengeance: "Leave the wrong done by another where it started." Do not squander yourself. This dictum against squandering illuminates our mortality. These aspects of Stoicism resonate within me.
Aurelius begs a willing encounter with the ephemerality of existence. He says, "So one should pass through this tiny fragment of time in tune with nature, and leave it gladly, as an olive might fall when ripe, blessing the earth which bore it and grateful to the tree which gave it growth."
Yet, here is where my mind, like quicksand, pulls me under the earth. An olive falls when ripe. In its time. It's incredibly painful- and beyond the realm of reasoning for me at times- to accept that so many young lives need be lost with such bitter untimeliness. The olive, in this case, did not fall gracefully to the welcoming detritus on the forest ground. The olive was plucked, forcefully, too early, like the bitter apple that held on by its stem in protestation.
Stoicism loses me here. I can much more readily accept the construct of an austere life. But there is something about a child's death against which I shall always recoil. I would not, and could not, as directed by Aurelius and his Stoa ilk, accept this as something that was meant to be. I would not accept the maxim that the gods intended these deaths, so young, or that they intentionally incited the accoutremental angst and agony. I can never follow the dictates of detachment: To go in peace or to abandon mourning for the dead. I reject that this is somehow in the Universal blueprint of the gods, as he asserts.
Still, there is so much I do appreciate about Aurelius. I can embrace his call to become good. And I will continue to work toward that end. But my idea of becoming good does not include my emotional acquiesence to Death or the relinquishment of grief rightly earned.
And I also believe that, somewhere, embedded in really feeling the pain of attachment are the potentialities for change and awakening. I feel strongly that Stoicism would have led me to another path wherein I did not become the person, woman, and mother who I am today. While I would give it all back to have her here instead, in absence of that option I am so thankful I allowed myself to experience attachment and its resounding agony. Rejecting my circumstances- refusing to accept it all as part of a larger plan- has created within me the will to survive in a different way. And in so doing, I have come to accept it in my own way and in my own time. This is the beauty of really feeling loss. I'd have missed it all otherwise...and now, the love is bigger than the pain.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Muslims call the cyclical summer flooding of the Nile, Wafaa El-Nil, The Night of the Tear-Drop. In Egyptian mythology, the Nile floods because of Isis' lamentations over the death of Osiris. She has so many tears that it causes the Nile to overflow. I can relate to the metaphor an ocean of tears. And disintegrated, amorphous, weighty, and fragmented: this is how I would describe my own journey into the abyss of grief. I'd lost my identity, my purpose, and any sense of a just existence. This was my dark night of the soul. One in which I would surely either die or I would be, in a archetypal sense, reborn much like Isis.
--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul