Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day of the Dead Reflections

Halloween, Saiham, All Soul's Day, Dia de Muertos, All Saint's Day

It's no surprise that many cultures have celebrations of death in the time after harvest and before winter's first snowfall. 

The nights are longer, the fields are barren, the trees are shedding their leaves, and summer flowers have shriveled and retreated.

Cemeteries are fascinating places where life and death mingle freely.  Some people think that visiting a cemetery for fun is exceedingly creepy.

I find them full of history, art, and peacefulness.  After all, cemeteries may house the dead, but the layout is designed for the living.

Mike and I recently spent a morning exploring Oak Hill Cemetery, established in 1854. It's near my work and I've always been curious about it.

We were surprised to find several military sites, ranging from the War of the Rebel to WWII.

As we walked around, voicing names that haven't been spoken out loud in decades, one thing that struck me was how early people died in life.

It's a historical fact that we're slowly extending our life expectancy, but it's different when you see how short a person's life once was in stone.

A gravestone with a cloth draped over it signifies that the person died early or unexpectedly.
I noticed over and over again that people commonly lived for about 50 years.  Even those who had death dates into the 1930s weren't living for very long.

It got me thinking somberly about the future.  One question has haunted me in recent days since our visit:

What would I do differently if I knew I would only live until 50?

That's barely over 20 years for me. 
I admit that I don't have a concrete answer to that.  No cute little list of things that I would change.

I've always believed life is short and previous.  Made it my goal to live with as few regrets as possible.  Or to at least avoid being the source of those regrets for myself and others.

If I were a superstitious person, this spelling plus seeing a dead deer in the cemetery would have sent me packing.
Maybe it's the changing of the seasons.  Maybe it's the lingering thoughts of the cemetery.  But I've been thinking a lot about life and death lately.  The passing of one form of existence into another.

Our lives have been greatly complicated as of late.  We recently learned that Mike is deploying overseas.  Can't provide any other details, but we will spend the majority of 2012 apart.

We also have two weeks to go until my next doctor's appointment.  A diagnosis will be welcomed, but it will change things.  To what extent remains unforeseen.

It's fitting that the month of Thanksgiving should start by honoring the dead.  

We would do well to not only remember those who walked before us, but to examine the times in our own lives that have been marked by a symbolic death - the passing of a relationship, a move to a new area, the end of a job.

Our very essence is outlined by these transitions.  

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