Dia de los Muertos

I love death.

I know, I know.  It is one of ninety-nine (or more) things that makes me strange – or as I prefer to say, “quirky.”  I don’t mean that I like death in such a way that I am looking forward to my own, or I enjoy the death of others.  To say that I love death is more to say I am fascinated with it, that I am more or less comfortable with it, that I think it should be as much a cause for celebration as it is for sorrowful mourning.

I had friends in town for the weekend and we were looking to fill our 48 hours together with the most unique brands of fun we could find.  In light of that, the annual Milwaukee Dia de los Muertos celebration at Walker Square Park seemed like a good choice.  A group of six of us assembled at the park and took it all in.  The smells of burning wood and incense filled the air.  Many people, young and old alike, were dressed in fancy garb and had their faces painted.  A circle of drummers kept the beat going. Sugar skulls and ofrendas provided colorful, heartfelt and at times somber visual reminders of what the day was about.  It all culminated in a tantalizing sensory overload.

This small, grass roots event was started four years ago by a group of people who just decided it needed to be done.  They believed, and rightly so, that it was a way to bring people into a community that is misunderstood and to unite the city’s citizens with a common thread. After all, what thread is more common to all of us than death?  Many of us, myself included, have already suffered a great many losses and had to find our way through the grief – a grief we may very well carry with us to this day.  All of us, myself included, will have to face our own departure one day.  Death, it seems, is the great equalizer.

As the parade was about to start, a few people shared words of wisdom. One of them, a quiet, soulful man, stood at the front of the crowd and gently told his story of his people who had passed.  In his story, he referenced the feeling he carries with him that his grandparents are always with him.  As he said this, he motioned his hand toward the sky, and at that precise moment two hawks flew in and landed on the tree above his head.   A gasp was let out by the crowd in unison, and tears filled many of our eyes.  It’s a moment that doesn’t even translate well in writing; it was a true “you-had-to-be-there moment.”

We then all walked in the parade together, something that hadn’t necessarily been planned but was the right thing to do.  It occurred to me as we walked that we are all in this together, this thing called life.  And while death is just one part of that, it is the part that reminds us of how important it is to live.

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