My favorite holiday-A A +A
Wrapped in Grey
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
AS ONE gets older, there is a shift in the order of priorities of annual rituals we all celebrate. It used to be that Christmas and birthdays were the more meaningful occasions because of the gifts and gaiety that come with these celebrations.
But as one accrues birthdays and you begin to purposively lose count; and Christmas gifts become things that you give to others instead of being the recipient, the annual cemetery visit every 1st and 2nd of November to loved ones who have passed on, achieve a new and important valuation. That is the case for me at least.
Over time, my appreciation for this occasion has gone deeper. I've gone beyond fearing the Halloween horror stories that is the fare on television during these times. Never was sold to the idea of its more commercial aspects that seems to be all the rage for kids these days with their trick-or-treating and costumes.
During our time, it was about horror stories told by older cousins beneath the shade of giant acacia trees under the moonlight. Maybe I just got older that is why. Now, I have made this moment to honor the memory and remember the love of those who have passed on as well as ponder on my own mortality.
It is a strange ritual if one thinks about it. For while the rest of the year we follow the code of survival and celebrate life whenever we can, in this particular holiday, we are made to pause and confront our own inevitable march towards death. Nothing can be more convincing about the certainty of one's own death than of loved ones, once full of life and love, now buried six feet below. And it is a marvel how every year, we are made to undergo this annual ritual and survive the existential dread that it should entail.
This is the reason perhaps why all cultures whether they be Asian, Western, traditional, or modern, facilitate the remembrance of the dead through social rituals. Left to their own devices, the confrontation of individuals with death would be far too much of a burden. It must be socially facilitated through occasions such as the annual All Soul's Day celebrations to make them bearable.
From a certain point of view, what actually takes place during these annual day-of-the-dead celebrations is a tug-of-war of the two major forces of existence - life and death. The granite or marble markers, beneath them the decayed bodies of loved ones, stand as veritable evidences of the fate that await us all. But around the crypt during the occasion, are family members and friends seemingly engaged in a dance of life.
During this time, it has become an occasion for kin to note the new additions to the family by way of new born babies. Former babies who seem to have magically transformed to young adults are marveled at while old folks like us, well, we just get older.
Old stories are then taken out, re-polished, and shared as if they were new. But it is the special food and drinks that is partaken by everyone, in a life affirming ritual of nourishment that performatively wins over the macabre nature of the occasion.
So the social ritual of remembering the dead is won over by the life affirming practices of a family meal, reminiscing, and the sharing of jokes and laughter in our Filipino cemeteries. Bolstered by these newly minted shared memories, we end the occasion having elided the dreadful confrontation with our inevitable mortality and arrive anew at that familiar excuse that life goes on. We go home either full or inebriated, recharged to face the coming workweek.
But a thought occurred to me in the midst of practicing these customary rituals that are seemingly oriented towards masking human mortality in favor of a view of life without death. Why is it that the social and individual impulse is towards escaping the certainty of our mortality when it is the one thing that cannot be escaped?
There is a lot of promise in terms of what the annual ritual can teach us if only we were brave enough as a society to confront the inevitability of death. If people accepted this truth about the fleeting nature of life, I wonder: would there still be in our midst, greedy politicians, landlords, and businessmen who amass power and wealth enough for several lifetimes?
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on November 05, 2013.