I was scheduled to be at a friend’s house last night. We had made a date to watch the Pixar film, “Coco”. I had ordered the DVD from Amazon, but it had been delayed several times, and I was grumpy and grouchy about that, and while it had actually arrived, I wasn’t sure if I was up for watching. It seemed as if the world was just giving me a bunch of extra stuff to deal with. It was the end of a long day that was filled with ups and downs (literally), much travel, all of which had left me tired and achy. I texted my friend to see if she was up for watching the movie. And she texted back “Yes!”
Truth be told, I would have been just as happy to put on my jammies and curl up in bed with some hot cocoa and forget about the world for the moment. The ceaseless coverage of politics, the outrage (faux and real) over the murder of a reporter, on-going suffering for the folks in Florida, Texas, Syria, and Indonesia was taking its toll on me. I’m not sure I have the bandwidth for the amount of suffering that seems to be offered up on a daily basis. And, for some neurotic reason unfathomable to me, I feel guilty for not being able to do better.
But, instead, I got in my car, picked up some dinner for the two of us, and went over to her house. I am so glad I did! We ate together, shared our day, celebrated our friendship and watched the movie. I came home tired, but restored. I had a good cry (it is a GREAT movie) and that is usually a release for me. I got into bed and fell into a deep sleep.
This morning I got up at my usual time, warmed up a cup of coffee, got on my stationary bike. I watched the news, checked my email, read the headlines, and took a long, hot shower. And then it struck me just how incredibly blessed I am.
I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I work with people who are heart-centered and caring. Who rise each day to help and support other human beings who are unable to care for themselves. I have access to fresh food and comfortable shelter, and long, hot showers. I have choice in where I go, who I meet with, and whether I interact at all. I have freedom to worship, freedom to write, and an audience who reads what I write and gives me feedback.
I can get in my car and drive to the ocean or I can sit at my desk and talk to and see colleagues who live half-way around the world. When I am “bored”, I can put down one book and pick up a remote and turn on a TV show or movie, or listen to one of the great orchestras of the world play Beethoven.
I have access 24/7 to the wisdom of philosophers, poets, artists, and academics who have thought and written about the human condition, life and death. I have at my fingertips inspirational videos, audio recordings, and essays that help to make sense of this incredibly difficult and painful era we are living in. I can study with living masters who are teaching courses on death and dying. And I can share a great movie with a dear friend.
If you haven’t seen Coco, it is all about the Mexican celebration, Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead. The theme is about remembering. But it is so much more. It is also about following a dream, of being willing to go against tradition and speak up for essential truths. It is about believing in something greater than self. It is about loss and love, and what it means to be human. It is about transitions and the undeniable fact that love seems to transcend time and memory.
The tradition calls for offerings (ofrenda) placed on an alter that includes pictures of deceased loved ones, foods they enjoyed, and drinks to quench their thirst. The time of year is where the veil between the world of the dead and living is thin, and it is easier to trespass, even for just a brief time, into each other’s domains. It draws on mezzo-American roots incorporating the Catholic calendar (All Saints’ Day), the maize harvest, blooming of marigolds, and the monarch butterfly migration.
But at its core, this celebration is an expression of gratitude. The commitment of the living to care for the memory of those who have died. Of keeping alive the hopes and passions that have been passed down, and the promise of reunion, as we all inevitably will make the transition.
I am presently taking a class on dying with a living master in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In this tradition, preparation for dying is considered as valuable as preparation for living. It is part of a continuum that exists subtly all around us, demonstrating how foolish we are to resist or fear it. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. It also has rituals and traditions of making offerings and bringing gifts for the gods. It also invites a gratitude practice as a way of letting go of attachments to this form and freeing the body so the “soul” can move into the next experience.
I have the privilege of conversing with many of my patients about death. These conversations are often initiated by me, but gratefully entered into, with comments such as “I can’t talk to others about this, but it is always on my mind.” Without fail, it quickly becomes a conversation about gratitude, occasionally regret, but most frequently, appreciation and thankfulness for all that has become the narrative of that person’s life.
I invite you to find ways to express gratitude. I invite you to find ways to converse with others about death and life and what your hopes, fears, and expectations are. I invite you to celebrate, in whatever your preferred tradition, the remarkable opportunity we are given to be feeling beings. And, by all means, do see “Coco”!
Thanks for reading.