Reflections on Day of the Dead

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I feel privileged to have participated in the wonderful tradition of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico. I say privileged, because I had an insider’s view having joined two families in their holiday preparations. I could share specific details, but I would rather focus on my heart-felt observations.

Day of the Dead

A Day of the Dead decorated tomb

I was struck by the deep family connections and web of community support that are the foundation of these people’s lives. I imagine that sometimes this might feel intrusive – like everyone knows your business, but knowing that you are loved and cared for seems to supercede most petty issues.

When I was young growing up in Brooklyn, NY, people knew my family and if I was spotted on the streets doing something wrong – my mother new about it. Although I wasn’t happy about that then – I can acknowledge the benefits of our feeling part of a community.

Today it is different in many parts of the USA. You might live in an apartment building for a year before you know your neighbor. You have to join groups to meet other parents and children. The sense of community and belonging is tenuous at best. There is an epidemic of people suffering from loneliness and lack of belonging. It is remarkable to live in a world with over 6.5 billion people and actually feel lonely!

Day of the Dead

An artist's paper-mache giant skull for Day of the Dead

It was powerful to see multi-generational families gathered around carefully decorated graves of their beloveds – telling stories, singing, sharing and simply being. The cemetery was lit with hundreds of candles sparkling like stars in the sky. Bright marigolds graced the graves and mementos of loved ones glittered in the night enticing the spirits of those who passed. It was a festive atmosphere illustrating the circle of life to young ones in a healthy and supportive way.

Maybe these people are poor, and maybe they don’t have iPads or Blackberry’s, but they do seem to be happier than most people I meet in here in the USA. There is a sense of knowing of who they are in the world, what is expected of them, and the promise that people will remember their contribution to the community when they are gone. People feel acknowledged, honored, respected and seen. How many of us can say the same?

I recognize that I am speaking to the loveliest parts of my experience and there is another side to this that might not be quite as wonderful. However, there is a greater joy and calmness in these people that is undeniable.

We are always searching, often unfulfilled, frustrated, and feeling like we can’t find our purpose in life. But here, the woman who makes home-made tortillas has a big smile for everyone, pride in what she does, and knows with every cell in her body who she is in the world.

And sometimes……that is enough.

With all my love, Sheri


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