I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day of the Dead

Bayview Cemetery on All Saint's Day
I used this picture in my other blog yesterday, but it's just too perfect for the season not to share it in this post as well. It also gives me a chance to think about this strange holiday that marks the end of October and the first few days of November. Not just Halloween, but also the Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, and Samhain. They merge together to mark this particular time of the year.

Not to mention that the clocks also changed last night from Daylight Saving Time to Pacific Standard Time, giving me an extra hour of sleep. I tried so hard to stay up later last night in order to wake at my usual time, but it didn't work. It makes me wonder why we still even use this system: now we wait until November to change the clocks, and we will change them back (when we lose an hour) in early March. This means that the sun will set around here before 5:00pm tonight, and in another month, it will be dark at both ends of the day. We are so far north here, almost 49 degrees latitude, that the days get shorter and shorter, the sun lower and lower in the sky, until by the beginning of winter the days are only 7 hours long with little sunshine. Mostly rain and gloomy skies. Fortunately I don't suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I learned a few years ago that those of us living so far north should take Vitamin D all year round. So it's been added to the numerous vitamins I take every day: those for my eyes, not to mention even a prescription drug (statins) for cholesterol.

I did see the retina specialist last week, and he found no change from my previous visit, which made both of us happy. My macular degeneration has slowed in its progression, and I credit much of it to good diet and all those vitamins. That doesn't mean it's stopped; when I asked the specialist if I could see him once a year, he did not agree. Some people see him every three months, and even a few must visit him once a month. When I found that out, I figured I'd better count my blessings and be glad I'm not needing eyeball injections or some of the other awful treatments he provides. But I'll do whatever it takes to keep my eyesight for as long as possible.

Back to the holiday. In some cultures, especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a bank holiday and families celebrate it by creating altars and putting place settings at the table with foods enjoyed by the loved ones. I found this quote on that Wikipedia link:
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children's altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
And there you go: a full three-day-long holiday celebrating our loved ones who have gone before us. Instead of this wonderful holiday, here in the United States we get an orgy of candy, a chance for kids to dress up in costumes, and an excuse for a costume party for the adults.  I saw quite a few interesting costumes on Friday and enjoyed them all. Once upon a time, I never missed a chance to put on another  identity and looked forward to Halloween. When I left Colorado, I got rid of a fair number of wigs I'd accumulated over the years. These days I enjoy the excitement of others and the chance to use my camera to capture their creativity. Just another one of those things I seem to have outgrown.

Samhain (pronounced SAW-win) is an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark days of the year. It's halfway between the autumnal equinox and the first day of winter, and it is seen as one of those times during the year when spirits can more easily enter the world of the living. It makes me wonder when so many cultures over such a long time find this particular date in our annual calendar to be when the doorway begins to shimmer with ghosts and goblins, when the demarcation between the worlds becomes thinner. Some people like to watch scary movies at this time; I'm not one of them. There's too much horror in the world already without trying to add to it. All I have to do to get really scared is watch the news of what is happening worldwide. Is it just me or is the world getting scarier in general? Or are the newscasters just concentrating on the frightening stuff?

Okay, I've wallowed around in the spookiness of the season long enough, and now it's time to think of happier things. Perhaps the trick to staying balanced and content in the world today is to concentrate on the positive side. I believe there are plenty of good things happening everywhere, but I sure don't see anybody telling me about them. I must go out of my way to find them, but they are there, if I will only look. This is one way that blogging has changed my life: there are myriad souls in this blogosphere who give me different perspectives, and many who are making a real difference in their own communities. Almost every day I will be inspired by some fellow blogger, and I realize that getting bogged down in negativity helps no one, especially not me. Those unwarranted fears take over only when I allow them to.

Today I'll pull out some old photographs I have of my loved ones who have gone over to the other side, and remember the good times we had together, honoring their lives and who they were to me. My sister PJ is also on the other side now, and the idea of them all having a feast together, remembering when they were down here in corporeal form, gives me a great deal of pleasure. PJ was a great cook, as was my mother in her younger days, so I can imagine PJ's fantastic apple pie and Mama's incredible turkey hash among the spread. If I listen carefully, I might be able to hear distant laughter and the clink of silverware.


Anonymous said...

Do you really believe in the other side? I used to, but not anymore.

We don't participate in Halloween and don't buy candy for the occasion. Too many home invaders these days who think they can invade my home and steal my stuff.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, This past week on TV one of the evening news shows reported that Americans now spend more on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas. Although that does strike me as being entirely believable, it seemed strange to me. I guess I’ve never given it that much priority. Back when I lived in a single-family dwelling neighborhood I did do the routine … buy the candy and pass it out to the costumed kids on Halloween evening. I enjoyed reading your description of what this entire 3-day holiday is all about in other cultures. I’m still learning something new every day. I wish our culture here was more like the one you described in Mexico and Latin America. Now, on another topic you mentioned … The clocks turned back last night. I wish someone would start an issue for the ballot box to exempt Washington State from Daylight Savings Time … we would be like Arizona, using Standard Time all year. My reason for this is that in this northern latitude we have a normal change to more daylight in the summers. We don’t need to tinker with the clocks so the sun is rising at about 5 in the morning and not setting until after 9 in the evening. Just my humble opinion. Well, I hope that next week you will give us a report on your new iPad. Does it meet your expectations? Wishing you a fine week. John

John's Island said...

I completely forgot to answer your question about the Mountain Goats in my Saturday post on John's Island. Please do a Google search for "montana field guide mountain goats" ... which will lead you to a page where there is a range map of the goats. It does look like the ones I saw in Montana are probably the same as the ones out here. Thanks for the question. John

Folkways Note Book said...

Lovely post -- as we age we realize there is a price to pay -- losing many of our friends and family. I have found coping with this reality is part of the aging process. -- barbara

Arkansas Patti said...

I do like your version of spending time with the memories of missing loved ones. I really prefer that to the fake gore we are accustomed to seeing at this time,especially in film. I haven't seen a horror film since "The Thing." That should tell you something:))
Keep doing what ever you are doing with your eyesight. It is working.

Elephant's Child said...

Smiles. I love the idea of those who have gone before us enjoying a meal, companionship, laughter (and wine).
Great news about your eyes.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I guess the children waiting for school buses in the early morning benefit from this change of the clocks, but I hate trying to change my biological clock twice a year. Excellent news about your eyes!

amanda said...

I agree about setting the clocks back, I wonder why we still use this system. It' hard on all of us, I believe our internal clocks are best left alone.
Your post made me realize that maybe I should take Vitamin D.. I love the sun, and sure miss it in our long winter months. We're at about the same latitude as you, and it's too cold to get out much in what short daylight hours there are.
I'm making note of the Vitamin D!
Good news about your eyes, and I appreciate the info & thoughts on the festivities & traditions surrounding what we know as Halloween.
It's not just you, I feel it too, that the world is getting scarier. I'm thankful for finding goodness, like you DJan. :)
In our area Halloween seems to be an excuse for adults to dress scantily clad & tasteless.
I tend to focus on the kids.. but I hate to see all the disposable costumes, the plastic accessories.. etc. I hate to sound like a scrooge, but our nation is so wasteful & frivolous.
Regardless, we had a very fun Halloween evening. :)

Red said...

It's interesting how this time has been marked for a long time. They were aware of the changing seasons and could pinpoint the times. The celebration and remembering of the dead takes place in many cultures.

June said...

I wonder how much longer DST will be used as much as it is across the country. It is such a temporary fix for the Long Darkness . . . a couple of weeks of light in the morning, and we're right back to dark until 7:30. I don't get annoyed with it though . . . the routine of my days has so little to do with natural rhythms.

Congratulations on staying where you are with macular degeneration. There are few conditions that frighten me as much as that.

Linda Myers said...

Great news about your eyes! And lucky you, no SAD. Vitamin D is a big help for that also - I take 4000 units every day year round.

I'd rather say hello to the neighborhood children in the daylight than open the door to them in the dark. Too much sugar!

Andrea said...

DJan - Would you mind sharing with me what your vitamins and diet include? I have a friend who has eye problems that I am very concerned about. You can email me at bossdog@roccoshouse.com

Rian said...

DJan, I do believe there is something beyond this mortal life... what exactly, I'm not sure. But I do believe love lives on... in some form. As for Halloween, all Saints Day, etc. - they're just man-made holidays commercialized too much in my opinion. But if the kids enjoy them or if they are a means to honor our loved ones - then I'm OK with it.
Glad your eyes are holding their own. You must be doing something right.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, did you ever read the Outlander books by Diane Gabaldon? The series begins with the book "Outlander," which takes place in Scotland after WW II.
In that first book the two main characters meet in 18th century Scotland. And the following books go between that period of time and the latter part of the 20th century.

I never thought I'd enjoy time travel, but these books have drawn me in. The reason I'm telling you this is because the entrance to the past is through a cleft between two tall rocks--the kind you'd see at Stonehenge. And so the entrance to the past is a passage through a narrow fissure.

And I think that time, whether to past or present is just a slit in the atmosphere. A trick of the light as the novelist Louise Penny would say. Peace.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

You are a mystic in your heart or hearts.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I don't like scary movies or the news half the time.
I am in full support of Halloween...kids dressing up spending time with their parents going around their neighborhoods...what fun! I am sorry I missed it this year..as it is one of my fav holidays next to May Day!!
We are back home, tired but okay! :)

Far Side of Fifty said...

Forgot to say good news about your eyes! You are doing something right! I need to add a Vitamin D tablet again since we have limited sunshine:(