November 1st, 2007.
All Saints Day
Yesterday was All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, where we celebrated the sanctity of Snickers, Milk-Duds and Candy Corn. Today is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, which honors all saints and martyrs, known and unknown. This is followed by All Souls Day (November 2nd), which gives the nod to the departed faithful who haven't yet been purified and made it into heaven. It's like they're in heaven's waiting room, waiting for the door to open and some angelic being with a clipboard to call their name and announce "The Lord will see you now. Last room on the left."
Beginnings and Endings.
We're very good with beginnings. Beginnings are new and fresh. Beginnings bring celebrations. Beginnings are special and cherished. We celebrate birthday beginnings, first date beginnings and wedding anniversary beginnings. We fondly remember the first day of school, the first job, the first day we drove a car, and the all-important first kiss. Beginnings represent endless possibilities of all good things. Beginnings are wonderful.
Endings are a different story. Endings are often messy. And sad. And hurtful. Endings aren't always neatly wrapped with a ribbon and a tidy the end. Endings often leave more questions than answers. Endings are rarely celebrated, and if they are, it is often with an overtone of malice. Seeya. Wouldn't wanna be ya.
Lighting the grill and tossing history on the fire is an option. There certainly is that sense of if it's gone, it's gone, and if it's gone, it's ended. Over and out. Nothing left but ash to dump on the roses. And maybe a clean, permanent, non-reversible ending is the easier solution. It's the whole tree falling in the woods scenario. If no traces remain , then did a messy, sad, hurtful ending really take place?
Deniability seems to be a strong weapon. It provides protection from hurt and builds a powerful facade of control which is hardened by excuses and blackened by a complete and utter lack of responsibility. To deny the existence of beginnings and endings -- and all the history they contain -- is to put on the emotional cloak of invisibility. Handy? Yes. But realistic? No.
In the Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke, they talked about the nature of traditional New Orleans funerals. On the way to the cemetery the mood is mournful and the music is slow and somber. This acknowledges the feelings of those still alive, and the grief they bear. But after the burial, the music becomes upbeat and party-like, with dancing and clapping and lots of When the Saints Go Marching In. The dichotomy was explained this way: "While the slow music says, 'we are sad to see you go' the fast music says, 'but we were SURE glad to know you.'"
This week I heard the phrase, "Endings deserve to be treated with as much love and respect as beginnings." It's so true. And it's so hard. As a competitive, losing is no option, vulnerability equals weakness kind of society, endings with grace seem difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, for me, it is not only a worthy goal, it is a necessary goal.
I keep an email folder of the most unusual kind. It's a folder of emails I have received from various people when they have suffered the loss of a loved one. I don't want to accidentally delete these letters, so I tuck them away. The reason I keep them is not because of the loss and sadness they contain, but because of the comforting words they contain. I am astounded at how how insightful and full of grace people can be during the worst of times. It both amazes and humbles me.
I've been reading several things lately that have dealt with beginnings and endings. The books are as different as books could be: From Rachel Remen's Kitchen Table Wisdom to the 13th century poetry of the Persian mystic Rumi to the popular Crazy Aunt Pearl's Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair. Yes, when I go fishing, I cast a wide, wide net.
Each of these books has wonderful, humorous and profound things to say about beginnings and endings, and how, like it or not, each of us has to walk alongside each of them at times. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it seems impossible. But maybe with one step comes hope. And with another step comes courage. And with another, grace. It's comforting to walk in the footprints of the Saints, but eventually we need to forge our own path, rejoicing in the beginnings, and having respect for the endings, but all the while being open to the possibilities that each presents. Because at the time of the ending, I think one of the best legacies would be to have people say, "We are sad to see you go, but we were SURE glad to know you."
To all those who have gone before, thank you for your footprints.
I hope my path does you proud.