Life has somehow gotten crazy busy, and I feel like I've neglected this little blog for awhile now. There are so many things I want to write about, so many things I want to post and remember, but one of my summer resolutions was to take more time to just be me. To do the things I truly want to do, and not feel that I "need" to do. Sometimes, I feel like I "need to update the blog"... but then I remember that I'm in the middle of a really good book, or have a super cute knitting project on my needles, so those things take priority. But slowly, as the urge strikes, I'll be updating the blog-- just forgive me when the posts are quite outdated.
So for this one, let's back the calendar up to Halloween-time. As we celebrate Halloween, other cultures celebrate what has come to be known as "The Day of the Dead". This tradition is actually a combination of the Catholic "All Saints Day" and the Aztec "Day of the Dead", but I won't go into a Central/Southern American history lesson right now. Instead, it's just important that you realize the central theme of this tradition is to honor and celebrate the ancestors that have passed away.
Obviously, different cultures and religions have different beliefs when it comes to an afterlife, and for me, this is one of the hardest and most confusing things to even think about. The idea of Heaven has, for as long as I can remember, not made any sense to me. I think it sounds like a lovely place, and I certainly would want to be first in line if the place does, in fact, exist.... I just am not convinced that it does. Do I want to be reunited with my ancestors someday? Of course. Would I love to someday meet the little souls I carried so briefly but lost this past year? More than anything. Does the idea of one more run with my healthy Maddy make my heart skip a beat? Yep. And while I can see the comfort in believing those things will someday happen, it isn't a belief that gives me any sense of peace. For me, the "what if's" have always overshadowed this promise of an afterlife, making the whole idea hard to accept. I find much more peace in accepting death as final, but keeping spirits alive by honoring and remembering those who have gone before us.
I've mentioned before that finding the UU church has been such a blessing for me. It's comforting for me to share space with like-minded people, who listen to my beliefs with no agenda or concern. On the first Sunday in November, the UU's held a special service to honor our ancestors. People were invited to bring photos of loved ones and light candles in memory of them. We learned about several customs and religious ways of honoring the dead, and had a visitor speak about the Japanese Obon festival. Later, we were invited to write the names of our loved ones on paper, and lay them at the foot of the altar. (This was done in a similar way Buddhist traditions write names on tablets and build shrines around them.) But perhaps the coolest part of the whole service was when we broke into groups of 5 or 6 people and shared stories about our loved ones.
I loved sharing that my grandma nicknamed me "Sugar Plum" and my Grandpa Arv had a bathroom devoted to the Iowa Hawkeyes. I talked about the little wooden animals and houses my grandpa Bernie made for us and the way my great-grandma taught me how to play Chinese Checkers. I ended by saying that every time I teach a student how to play Chinese Checkers, I can feel my great-grandma's spirit close by.
As I listened to my group share stories, it dawned on me how similar and yet how different all of our stories were. The same themes intertwined our stories-- themes of love and happiness and silliness and devotion. I loved learning about these people in my friends' lives and enjoyed sharing mine. And as I drove home that morning, I thought about the millions of people who have gone before us, the lives they've led, the lessons they've learned, the people they've touched. Their spirits linger when we remember.