Marigolds, Sugar Skulls, and Beautiful Death

Death, be not proud...

November 1, 2010

Most of you celebrated Halloween yesterday. Or maybe this Saturday or Friday. You dressed up, went out, had fun, probably got drunk, and called it a night. Good. I did pretty much the same thing, but I have something else in mind for tomorrow.

Tomorrow (and today for some people) is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The smell of marigolds will attract the spirits of the dead, sugar skulls will serve as decoration snacks, and millions of people will pause to remember family and friends.

In Mexico, and for many living in the United States having emigrated from Mexico, these two days are a time to remember the dead, to celebrate their lives and pay homage to those who have come before. Many families will go to cemeteries and have picnics. Others will build altars with photographs, candies, food, and liquor to remember family and friends.

day of the dead mask by ~eesss on deviantART

And I know that, to many of you, this seems like a morbid, depressing ritual.

Oh, how you have much to learn.

In Mexico, death is not something ominous, something that comes for you at the end of your life. Death is a part of life. We don’t shy away from eating every part of an animal, or even from cooking with the animal’s blood. We accept the animal’s death as part of the feast. Likewise death is a regular part of the news cycle south of the border.

We are just accustomed to death. We name it. Some worship an aspect of it called la Santa Muerte. It is not a love of death so much as a respect for it. This is not something that is widespread, and in fact in many more modernized areas of the country, this is frowned upon as witchcraft or dark magic.

Me? I like to think of death as something that is just always there.

In a way, I don’t fear death. I just know it will be there. And this is not, I believe, a morbid point of view.

The rose and Death by ~Trixis on deviantART

In fact, it’s a beautiful way to look at the world. What makes things precious? We value that which is rare or unique. If there exists only a single copy of something, we will not even give it an amount. We just call it priceless.

What is more valuable than a life? Each person, animal, and plant will exist in one form for a single life in all of the history of the universe. I will only exist once. The Beatles existed only once. My family, my friends, and every person I’ve ever met will live but one life and then leave. With 6.7 billion people on the planet, some would say this is inconsequential. Surely we can have someone who is similar. Surely the death of one individual has no effect on the history of the world unless that individual is famous or contributes to society…

And yet that’s the exact opposite of what I believe.

Dia de los muertos III 2009 by ~SaveTheDonuts on deviantART

Seeing death, knowing it will come, knowing it may happen at any time, makes life beautiful. It makes you appreciate every moment. If makes aware of the value of every day. The average life expectancy is 75 years. That means I have 588 months left, on average.

I know that number is even less for others, but that doesn’t take into account accidents, disease, meteors, and zombies that could take us at any time.

And when we do leave this world…

That’s the beauty. To the dead we owe the truth. Oddly enough, it’s one of the contradictions of death that it tells us more about the living than anything else. Funerals are not about the dead. They are there to comfort and give closure to the living.

I often wonder about the people who have come before. All of us will meet death. Every. One. Of us. To remember this is to want to make a mark on the world. Maybe you’ll teach. Maybe you’ll focus on raising your children to be the best they can. Perhaps you’ll decide to be an artist.

Death is not something to fear. It is what drives us to be better and make sure that, when we go, people remember who we are. It is the limit we have to beat if we hope to achieve everything possible. Death is a constant companion, not an enemy.

Dia de Los Muertos by ~Teddy-is-dead on deviantART

Tomorrow, I’ll remember these things more than usual. I’ll remember family that’s gone, some recently, some in the last few years. I encourage you to do the same, but don’t mourn the fact that they are gone. Remember the things they left behind, the memories they gave you, and the things that made them unique. No one like them will ever exist.


With that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems: Holy Sonnet X by John Donne. Enjoy, and jump down below the video for the links.

Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

Link time, boys and girls!

  • If you recommend a teacher for this group, you get a case of wine… But does the teacher get a case of wine!? We deserve it more!
  • Looks like the new Batman movie will be called The Dark Knight Rises. Word from Nolan is that there will be NO Riddler, which is good, I think. That would be a difficult villain to Nolanize. I once heard the argument that the third Batman film should not even have a main villain… just THE MOB. Make it completely character driven, in other words. Thoughts?
  • And finally, as much as people deck out their houses for Christmas, this Halloween-themed light-show is amazing. The footage is a bit old, but it’s still really cool. See you tomorrow!