Sunday, November 1st, 2015
Summer has ended. In the ancient Celtic tradition, All Hallows’ Eve marked the end of the harvest season, when shepherds would move their animals into barns in preparation for the long winter. Hallowe’en and the following days of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2), represent one of those strange mixtures of ancient pagan rituals with Christian celebrations that we see on other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter.
This Hallowe’en I managed to spook Sam the dog rather badly by putting on my mask from Papua New Guinea and dancing around. I’m not sure he’s recovered yet. Animals generally hate Hallowe’en and for good reason; their humans become unrecognizable, act silly, and then slump into sugar comas long before feeding time rolls around. And only a few very lucky animals get to dress up because, frankly, animals don’t look that good in face paint. It’s just not fair. As an aside, I never quite understood why the Saints get in line in front of all those Souls, unless Saint Francis decided he’d better be there first thing on the morning of November 1 to soothe the animals startled out of their wits by idiots wearing masks from the South Pacific.
That said, and with all due respect to Saint Francis et al, I honestly think that the animals are probably more in synch with All Souls’ Day, or as some call it, the Day of the Dead (although in all likelihood animals are tuned in 365 days a year and not just on one – they’re better at the transitions than we are). Still and all, I wish it were more common in the U.S. to “do up” the Day of the Dead in honor of our ancestors and loved ones who have gone before us. Hallowe’en and scary costumes and ghosts made out of bedsheets are about as close to all this that a lot of folks choose to get unless the matter is forced upon them. On the other and, some countries hold massive celebrations with candies made into skull shapes, picnics held on grave sites, parades with spectacular costumes, and flowers pouring out everywhere. It’s not a celebration of life… it’s a celebration of death – a glorious, colorful time of prayer amongst thousands for the souls who have moved on. Surely, we all have our own personal anniversaries, the tiny crosses or death markers we’ve left along our journey. But I’m much struck and touched by the community nature of getting in touch with all those who used to be.
As someone who moved from the city to a farm, I have had a long and steep learning curve in adjusting to the earth’s rhythms, most especially that of the dance of Death; I’ve had to inexpertly grope my way through the maze of logistics and emotions that beset one when newly hatched chicks are found struggling on Christmas day or on the most beautiful spring morning I find an inert body.
And then there are the ‘phenomena’.
Recently the farm lost Rocky, the ‘largest steer I’ve ever seen’ as said all the professionals who came out to try to help him. The morning that he passed away, I found a limp young wild rabbit just inside my front door. This was not the first time that a tandem death occurred. A friend of the farm told me that the day her dog died, oddly enough, the same day that Rocky left this earth; she was looking for a good spot to bury him and when she saw the body of a tiny bird in a quiet place, she knew that was where her dog needed to go. How can these things be explained? We homo sapiens have the capacity to invent tools, use our tongues for complex speech in so many languages, eat the most varied diet of any creature on earth, send messages through the airwaves, but really, we know very little when it comes to (im)mortality. When death arrives it offers us a chance to tune into a different frequency and this time of mourning, this painful, awful, stomach-wrenching time of loss is when we can perhaps feel the passionate presence of God, of the migration of souls. Why NOT celebrate this once a year with flowers and parades, colorful masks, communal remembrance, and last but certainly not least, consumption of delectable tacos at grave sites?
So today, on All Souls’ Day, November 2, 2015, I shall strew flowers about the farm, feed and kiss the living animals, and commemorate those who have turned to dust … but only on this plane of existence. All rise to honor them.
‘Till next time,
“He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow