in the fear of death, speaking only to life

there is something i love about the agreeable contrast and irresistible affinity between all hallow’s eve and all saint’s day.

Candles in Armenian church

Artnaz's photostream on Flickr

halloween recognizes the fear, dread, the grotesque nature of horror and of death.  kate moos, on the speaking of faith blog, speaks about the deliciousness of getting to ‘become a monster’ for only one night a year, and i think she’s right: there is certainly something in how humanity repeatedly seeks to wallow in the depths of death for (at least) one night a year. on hallow’s eve, we make light of it. halloween has become a day of raunch, of candy-guzzling, cheap thrills, and funny costumes. but it is also something richer, more nauseatingly terrifying: a staring into the cold heart of death that is essential to human experience. in the end, though, the night ends, and we are greeted with… candy, sensation, laughter. reminders of our very alive lives.

i love michael jackson’s thriller video. it encapsulates what halloween was to me as a kid: very eighties of course, lots of rotting skin, but playful, ending with a laugh. it tempts us into fear more than once, but never quite to seriousness — because who can really be that afraid of dancing zombies? michael had it under control.

then we come to the next day, far less grotesque but perhaps more graceful, and certainly more frightening: all saint’s day.

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this time, the chill of a cold october night has given way to the penetrating absence of those lost to death.

this time, we encounter death not as fantasy, but in how it has touched our lives.  the rotting flesh is not upon the faces of zombies, but instead is in our minds, in the reality of what we knows happens to bodies when their souls depart.

we light candles not to be spooky or funny or to light up the night with an orange playful glow.  now we light them to remember, whispering names too often unspoken.  alice.  leo.  george.  lindsay.  we think of the day we know will come when our loved ones will die.  or, when we die.

both candles serve purposes.  we need to mock and intimidate death as much as we fear it, else we are overcome with terror.  and yet, and yet.  and yet we remember, bringing to life again that which was lost, speaking into being the memory of days passed, serving the purpose of loving each other in life, despite the inevitability of death.

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