Dead Man’s Party

Mrs. Pastry is back from Oaxaca with bags of chocolate, fresh nuts and a smartphone full of photographs. The pictures make me regret not bringing the whole family down there last week. Day of the Dead is something special, both from an artistic and philosophical point of view. The above picture is a sand painting made on top of a grave during a late-night cemetery party Mrs. Pastry went to. As in many places in Mexico during Day of the Dead, people were very enthusiastic about displaying their artwork and introducing visitors to dead family members.

We who live in the more northerly parts of the hemisphere have a hard time grasping the difference in attitude between here and there, especially concerning death. I can’t describe it save to say death is a lot more normal there. You’re born, you live and you die. And when you do, you don’t necessarily miss out on the parties. It’s nice. People remember their departed loved ones not with our sad northerly brand of sentimentality, but with a happy, southerly one.

Where does all the optimism come from? It seems to be rooted deep in cultural tradition. Mrs. Pastry had occasion to visit some Zapotec ruins at Monte Albán on her trip. There she snapped pictures of these glyphs which depict illnesses and physical disabilities — and not in the way we might, as terrible human tragedies, but as gifts from the gods.

Ya gotta love that. Or at any rate I gotta. A lot of you know I’m a cancer survivor, and you’ve probably heard me say (write) that up until that point in my life it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Which makes me wish I’d been down there last week. Seen from one vantage point, finding things to celebrate in death, disease and disability seems crazy. Seen from another it makes eminent sense.

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