Who among us can say, “I embrace death?”
There are only two experiences all humans share in common. Birth and death. Since our earliest beginnings, humans have managed to deal with, avoid, celebrate, flee, focus upon, ignore, formulate theories, and flagrantly seek to deny these two inevitable events with exquisite creativity. Proving one thing: Birth and death matter.
As the natural world in the northern hemisphere passes the zenith of its summer life and moves into the early chill of fall, we see birth and death all around us. The fruits ripening on the branches of apple trees, evergreen huckleberries and late-ripening blackberries bring the promise of new birth, even as yellowing leaves, wizened raisins, and rotting blossoms speak of death’s gradual crawl across the land.
Gardeners are deeply engaged with these cycles of birth and death, and we speak of them regularly, without hesitation. We prune back excess greenery, allowing our aging tomato vines to better ripen plump, green fruit. We dig manure into the old beds, the soil already shifted from the process of wrenching wilting bush beans, corn stalks, and over-extended squash plants out by the roots. And we toss them into a great pile of death, dying, and decay…from which the best beets and potatoes will grow next year.
Yet – when we speak of humans, who among us can say, “I embrace death?”
Into this quiet, perhaps awkward space, steps a familiar companion. Ceremony. Holy Day. Tradition. Throughout history, death has been graced with our constant attention, and how better to do so than with lights and food, flowers and song, music and drink? Which makes a great deal of sense. If you can’t avoid something…turn it into an excuse to throw a party!
Among the many stories we tell ourselves about death, the religious concepts adhered to, the cultural mores and traditions lovingly passed on from the “dying generation” to the “recently born generation,” Mictēcacihuātl is a death deity many Americans know of – without realizing it. Created in the bloody furnace of Aztec mythology, the consort of Mictlāntēcutli is known as the “Lady of the Dead,” and she watches over the bones of the dead and ancient festivals held by the living to…embrace death.
Yes. The modern incarnation of “Día de Los Muertos,” canonized into popular culture by Pixar’s colorful, musical imagery and Disney’s trademark pulling of our heartstrings, “Coco” has even further invited hundreds of millions of people into an ancient, Aztec tradition. And, by so doing, paved the way for many of us to answer the above question in the affirmative.
“Yes. I embrace death.”
This month, as the world around you moves gracefully into “the beautiful dark,” entering into a womb from which the birth of springtime can emerge yet again, consider the effect on your life…of embracing death. Whatever tradition inspires you, it is never the wrong time to accept what is, and to turn it into an ally, a friend, a trusted companion, and a gift.