In some parts of Mexico, the period between October 31st and November 2nd is known as the Days of the Dead; a time to remember and celebrate those family members who have died. These celebrations aren’t morbid affairs but rather become a celebration of life. It is a time to realize that we are all going to pass away and for that reason, life is to be savored.
An interesting study by a team of professors out of Dartmouth College tells us that life’s precious moments are defined differently based upon age. Younger people are more attuned to the extraordinary experiences in life such as college graduation; beginning a career or going on an exciting vacation. Whereas, many of us can attest that the more birthday’s we’ve celebrated the more we learn to relish the small pleasures of life. The smell of leaves as you rake them in a pile; the taste of a hot cup of coffee when you come in from raking the leaves; the kiss of a loved one; the smile of a baby; the rumble of thunder and the smell of rain; all are small joys to be cherished by those of us who are closer to the end of our days than we are to the beginning.
The idea of using the certainty of our death as a springboard to enjoy more deeply the life around us has been immortalized in a poem by W.S. Merwin which is copied below. I first read this poem a good 20 years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. I will often use my birthday as a quiet moment to reflect on the knowledge that I have not only lived another year, but that I have also lived through the anniversary of my death to come. Both events are reasons to walk outside and stand in the sun once more.
For the Anniversary of My Death
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.