Tuesday, November 03, 2009

death takes a holiday

Near the end of Annie Hall, Alvy and Annie are dividing their property. Looking at a stack of books, Annie says:

Now, look, all the books with death and dying are yours, and all the poetry books are mine.

If you changed the character names to Mexico and America, you would just about sum about the respective attitudes of each nation toward death.

Death is a timely topic. It is always, of course.

But death rides high this week in Mexico -- with its Day of the Dead celebrations.

I drove to the local cemetery today and yesterday. It is a fair distance to drive from town. When I got there, I found a couple cars and a few knots of relatives in the cemetery. Hardly the mob scene I had been told to anticipate.

I stopped, but decided not to intrude with my camera. After all, I would feel a bit violated if a stranger with a camera elbowed into our family's Memorial Day grave decoration ceremony.

The celebration caused me to organize some thoughts I have been mulling over during the last few weeks.

Mexicans seem to have a natural relationship with death. Perhaps because it seems that much closer to people who have few material goods. Or it could be the effect that Roman Catholicism has had on the general public. As Anne Lamott points out "a basic tenet of the Christian faith is that death is really just a major change of address."

Whatever the reason, their remembrance of their dead relatives through stylized demonstrations is not emotional on the surface. In fact, it appears to be quite loving.

Americans do not share that view of death. I have several friends who will not discuss it with me. An American doctor friend tells me that he is amazed at how many of his patients say "if I die," rather than "when I die." Another young friend told me he thinks that death will be conquered by science by the time he gets to be my age (40 more years).

Of course, there are exceptions. I have been fascinated with death all of my life. And another friend told me recently that he has been hiding his fascination with the topic because everyone else thinks he is weird to discuss it.

That is why an American newspaper could run a headline "Mexico death museum lives up to morbid name" with a story about the Mexican National Museum of Death. The story goes on to refer to "the country's macabre interest in kicking the bucket."

Morbid? Macabre? Simply because the topic is death.

When I read Babs's post yesterday morning, several pieces came together. She wrote about the emotional turmoil that she went through when building an altar for her daughter: Jennifer's Altar. But when the altar was complete, she felt a sense of peace.

I suspect that is what we Americans attempt to avoid when discussing death. We want the peace on the cheap -- without the emotional turmoil.

Yesterday I did not feel well. I ended up sleeping most of the day. But my death thoughts seem to have triggered something.

I had a dream. I was in a strange apartment. There was a knock at the door. I opened it, and there stood a liveried chauffeur. No idea who he was. But he said: "Sir, the car is ready."

I followed him down two flights of stairs to an urban street where a Duesenberg J awaited. He opened the door. I got in.

Even though I was alone; I was not alone. There were about eight other people in the car. But they were ethereal. My dad. My grandmother. My Aunt Bessie. Some people I have not yet met.

But they were all looking forward. No social interchange at all.

But that is what I get for thinking too much on this topic.

Of course, it would have been a far better tale if it had been a carriage and my fellow passenger was Miss Emily Dickinson.

Because we could have shared our books -- of poetry and death.


Anonymous said...

We live forever, though by our loved ones!
Take great of yourself. min

DanaJ said...

Have I died and gone to heaven?
You just referenced two of my favorite "Ann"-s : Hall and Lamott!

How many hundreds of people read Bab's blog entry yesterday and were moved but didn't post because words would be just too inept to convey their feelings/empathy and so they just touched the monitor in an effort to reach out to her and said a prayer across the internet?

Felipe said...

Interesting that Los Muertos does not seem to be much of a deal in your neck of the woods. Quite the contrary where I live. Maybe it has something to do with coconuts.

Anonymous said...

What the dead man said:

"I'd talk more at length about my death, but you see, I'm dead and quite out of breath."

A N Moose

jennifer rose said...

It's this time of year that makes you just feel downright sorry for those who do not live in Michoacan.

glorv1 said...

I wrote a poem about death once and I may have posted it before but this is how I feel about death and dying.
Death Your Mean
Death, I hate you for taking what your want.
Your power is greater than all powers.
It’s out of nowhere that you are sent,
To make everything so permanent.

Couldn’t you turn your back and go away
Instead of reaching out to cause dismay.

Oh many a night I’ve heard you say
“I’ll be around without delay.”

I don’t need you! I don’t want you here where you are so very near.
You’re like a shadow casting grief
depriving everyone of eternal belief.

I hate you and your uncaring ways
You’ve got us numbered by the days.
Go away and leave me alone
For my sins, give me time to atone.

I don’t want to know your feats,
I don’t even want no front row seats.

Leave me in back and extend my time
I want to live to be my prime.
But you’re a nuisance who waits around pestering me till I’m in the ground.

You reek of vengeance and your intentions are set, you won’t be satisfied till we have met.

So Steve, this is how I feel about "death."

Well I'm drained of enery so I shall leave wishing you a wondeful day. :DD

Glenn said...

When you´re in Guanajuato you might want to vist the Museo de las Momias.

Steve Cotton said...

Min -- I shall indeed.

DanaJ -- A pair of Annes beats almost everything. I am not certain how many hearts Babs's post touched. I can only say that I was one.

Felipe -- As you have pointed out several times, there are many Mexicos. And the two where we live vary a lot.

ANM -- I suspect that in death I will still be writing away. Frightening, eh?

Gloria -- Thank you for the poem.

Glenn -- I plan to. I have heard about it for years. As you can imagine.

Calypso said...

Yike Chico - what did you eat before you went to bed?

Like Felipe - this Holiday is a biggie around here. I appreciate it far more than Halloween or even Thanksgiving Day when up there they celebrate essentially ethnic cleansing the American Indians.

Oh Well - maybe if you took up skim boarding your dreams would be about girls in stringed bikinis rather than a death ride amigo ;-)

DanaJ said...

re:mummies in GTO city
=Atrocity Tourism.

wasn't worth my time.
The city has too many charms to bother with this. wish i hadn't.


Steve Cotton said...

DanaJ -- It always sounded like the type of place that would enrapture a 12-year old boy.