While I might tack on a few pictures of the hooligans doing Halloween this year, the All Saints this post refers to are more along the lines of the Day of the Dead variety. Those gone before and those still here but approaching the ether that divides the dead from the living. Or, as death is portrayed in the Orthodox Church, that movement from life to life.
It’s one day past the Day of the Dead, and this has been
a bad year, six funerals already and not done yet.
But on this blue day of perfect weather, I can’t muster
sadness, for the trees are radiant, the air thick as Karo
warmed in a pan. I have my friend’s last book spread
on the table and a cup of coffee in a white china mug.
All the leaves are ringing, like the tiny bells of God.
My mother, too, is ready to leave. All she wants now
is sugar: penuche fudge, tapioca pudding, pumpkin roll.
She wants to sit in the sun, pull it around her shoulders
like an Orlon sweater, and listen to the birds
in the far-off trees. I want this sweetness to linger
on her tongue, because the days are growing shorter
now, and night comes on, so quickly.
“All Saints” by Barbara Crooker, from Gold. © Cascade Books, 2013.
Each Sunday, our priest has this funny habit of mentioning how many funerals the church has held over the course of the year. We’re approaching forty. No wonder he’s a little preoccupied. Between our Fr. Nicholas and the running obsession with graveyards and spirits around here, I’ve been pondering a good bit about death—its imminence and the ways we rage against it, tethering ourselves with the materials of this world.
My grandfather—Papa George—is in ailing health. For several years now his body’s decline has been a hindrance to his mobility and a downright annoyance to his mental faculties. Getting old has not been a pleasant experience. Unlike the “All Saints” mother, he is not ready to leave. Instead of sweets, he wants barbecue ribs, Quarter Pounders with cheese, steak and egg burritos, sausages.
I love the image of air thick as Karo warmed in a pan, the sun wrapped ’round like a sweater, pumpkin rolls and penuche fudge (had to look that one up—brown sugar, butter, milk and vanilla). Sugar seems a fitting gateway food to the other side. But Papa has no desire for sweet rapture. His animal instincts are fully intact. He ain’t goin’ nowhere, especially not toward that ether between this and the other side.
Of course there is great beauty and necessity in letting come-what-may. But what about the fighters? What do you tell them? Can’t that stubbornness be a road too? A way?
John and I have a recurring conversation concerning spirit/totem animals. Native American folklore is rich with such tales. It is believed that a person and her “life-long” spirit totem animals “share a spiritual, energetic connection in which the animals serves as an ally, guide, teacher, protector, and a source of power throughout the person’s life.” John’s animals are (of course) all very poetic and spiritually rich: the hawk (messenger), the heron (self-reflection, self-reliance), the turtle (Earth Mother, fertility). You know what I keep returning to? The Mule. This afternoon I looked up the attribute the mule is said to impart: allowance. Yeah. Not even sure what that means.
Except. I have this sneaky suspicion that mules are horribly underrated. This is where Papa and I have something in common, that stubborn tethering to the things of this world. As for allowance, well, the word is rich. Most obviously, it means “to allow.” There’s a leniency and grace about it. A kind of benevolent tolerance. But it also conveys a particular amount, a sense of what will be permitted.
Papa was a boxer in the Marines. He played football for the University of Colorado. He’s not going to just fade away. But I’d like, somehow , to convey to him that making allowance might leave him a little less miserable. Permitting oneself to grow old might sound pointless, but if the mind and the body aren’t in accord, we end up fighting ourselves, and what’s the good in that?
I love my Papa’s will to live. His lust for life is contagious, much like his love of family. Which reminds me—those hooligans. G’s Darth Maul is pretty obvious. J woke up with an itch to be Charles Dickens’ Pointing Spirit (the ghost of Christmas future in A Christmas Carol). As his Texas Aunt Beth put it, it looks like he went marker-crazy on his face, but he was sufficiently spooky. I was just relieved he bypassed the creepy-trashy zombie suit.