Not long ago, a poem caught my ear—a poem about the Day of the Dead. “Día de los Muertos” it’s called. I think it speaks in the voice of those gracing our ofrenda. I’d like to share it with you.
The beat of my heart has disappeared from earth
But it rings loudly in another world
I can still see you, living and dreaming, loving and smiling
The children, los nietos, I hear them
My love, the one I left behind
I feel them mourning, I sense the pain of loss
Do not worry, I come back to earth to celebrate my life in spirit
So will you
Come Día de los Muertos, fill me with living
Let me walk this earth once again
Touch the stars and kiss the ones I have loved the most
Remember our boda, the veil you wore, sprinkled my soul with passion
And my comaradas, how I miss them
Through thick and thin they stood their ground
My niña, my bella niña
She said goodbye in her own special way
The rhythm begins
Color your face into skulls
Wear hats in my honor
I see you, dancing across the light
Under the beauty of the night
To the beat of my heart
The altar in my honor, inside like a cita
Breathes the soul back in me
Día de los Muertos, come back to me
So I can feel home again.1
Today, we celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Our loved ones gather around us. We see their faces. We hear their voices. And we remember. We remember the fullness of their lives.
Their pain, their sorrow, their suffering. The hurdles they encountered. The struggles they endured.
There they stand–“Those who sowed with tears.”
Those we love but see no longer. The people gathered here with us tonight. The people gracing our ofrenda.
We remember “Those who sowed with tears” are also those who “reap with songs of joy.”
And so we remember the joy that was a part them. Their laughter. The pleasure they took in other people’s joys. Their gentle smile. Their warm encouragement. The quiet times. The wild times. The times spent sharing bread and wine around the table.
We remember the challenges they presented us. The way they pushed our buttons. The way they called us out when we were out of line. The way they pushed the boundaries of our lives.
Dia de los Muertos. A day, a season, a time for remembering the fullness of life and the fullness of life in relationship with those we love. Relationships marked by joy and sorrow, comfort and annoyance, trust and doubt. Relationships that stand the test of time.
As I look at our ofrenda, as I see the people gathered there, I find myself wondering about the lives of those whom I am meeting for the first time today. I find myself remembering the lives of those I knew.
This year I brought another picture to place on the ofrenda—one I haven’t brought before. My maternal grandmother Mary Hazel Wilson. You can see her laughing. That’s how I remember her. Smiling, laughing, filled with warmth. And yet when I recall the details of her life, I wonder where that laughter came from. She never finished school. She had to work to support herself and her family. After her first child, my mother, was born, she lost two babies. Years later she watched her daughter—her only child—hover on the brink of life and death for almost three years. The grandmother I remember is also the one who drove me nuts—saying tater instead of potato, eating gravy bread and liking it, complaining about my mom. The grandmother I remember is the grandmother in the picture—laughing, smiling, coming to the rescue every time I got sent to my room. The grandmother I remember mostly kept her weeping to herself. The grandmother I remember walking with joy while shouldering her sheaves.
Take a moment. Look at the people gathered at our ofrenda. Each one loved by one of us. Each one gone and still very much a part of our lives and our life together. Each one knowing suffering and sorrow, failure and disappointment for such is a part of life. Each one knowing the joy and laughter and love that make life worth living. Each one loved by God with an everlasting love.
Dia de los Muertos—a day when we celebrate with the cloud of witnesses surrounding us God’s commitment to life. A commitment to life that invites us to dance “across the light, under the beauty of the night, to the beauty of God’s heart….” A commitment that calls us to love one another as we are loved—to love with an everlasting love—a love that defies the chains of death, a love that transcends the limits of time. A love that embraces the wounded, the lame, the poor and the lowly. The limitless love of God.
1Olivia Garcia, “Dia de los Muertos”