Today is the Day of the Dead. From wikipedia: Day of the Dead (Dia de los muertos in Spanish) is a Mexican holiday observed throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. According to wikipedia Day of the Dead begins on October 31st and ends on November 2nd every year. In Missoula we have a Festival of the Dead parade, which will happen later on today downtown, to honor and celebrate this honorable holiday, along with other workshops that go on around town in the week leading up to today.
Last Sunday a friend told me about a storytelling event that one of the oldest cemeteries in town offers every year around Halloween time. I had never heard about it before and was interested in attending so I brought my stepson with me and his friend and we met up with my friend Rhonda to go check it out. It was a nice autumn day last Sunday with hints of sun shining through the silver clouds, a spread of yellowing leaves on the ground, and a chill to the air. Upon arriving at the Missoula City Cemetery we were greeted warmly and given a map of the storytellers that were located around the grounds. The premise of the event was to have volunteers dress up in character and tell their story as if they were the one who had died and was buried at the particular gravesite they were speaking from. They would tell the life story of that individual or talk about a certain event that occurred or offer other important information about their life. They were all true stories and many of the volunteers also had pictures to show. It was very well done and incredibly enjoyable to hear stories of the past.
The volunteers simply tell their stories in a loop throughout the 2-3 hours that the event is held for, so you can walk around and go to the stories you’re interested in hearing at your own pace. It’s a free community event and the volunteers were just great. They dressed up in costumes appropriate for the time period they were speaking about and did such a lovely job telling their stories. There were far too many stories spread throughout the cemetery to be able to hear them all so the map was helpful to be able to pick and choose which ones I particularly wanted to hear. The first one I listened to was one of my favorites. It was a woman who was the first school teacher in our town. She had a great poster listing all of the rules of the time for school teachers and the roster of her first students. Rules included not being able to marry, not keeping the company of men, not smoking, not being able to dye their hair, and not being able to leave their homes between 8:00pm-6:00am unless for a school function. Here is a picture of her poster (you can click on it to enlarge & read it better):
I also enjoyed the story behind our local Wilma Theatre and the story from Jeanette Rankin (of our local non-profit the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center). Jeanette Rankin was the first woman to be elected into U.S Congress and it was right here in Montana that she was elected. Listed on the map we were provided, along with a variety of names, were stories with overarching themes such as, Norwegian History, Greek History, Civil War Soldiers, Jewish History, and Japanese History.
To be able to connect with the past, learn from those that have come before us, and widen our perspective are all part of remembering and honoring those who have passed on. I think having events such as these, and others, that allow us to get in touch with the deceased also enable us to start building a relationship with our own sense of mortality, which is an important element to being able to live a light and happy life in the present moment. Fearing the inevitable, death and dying, consumes precious energy that can be better spent on fully appreciating the here and now and seeing all of the wonderful and amazing elements within and around us. Embracing death as part of life helps us to cultivate embracing life today just as it is.
Breathing in I am alive!
Breathing out I am grateful!