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Don’t fear Death, fear not to live

Don’t fear Death, fear not to live

Parts of a famous saying go like this: “…in this world nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” It is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the man whose face adorns the elusive $100 bill. 

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Parts of a famous saying go like this: “…in this world nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” It is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the man whose face adorns the elusive $100 bill. 

Of course, we certainly know that not everyone pays taxes. Among those who manage to elude that ornery civil duty we count churches from any religion and the still President of this country (I write these thoughts before Nov. 3). 

Thus, if we quote that phrase, only death remains a certainty. 

The representatives of religions everywhere, perhaps exhibiting a pinch of civic solidarity with those who fatten their deep pockets or—more likely—hoping to continue receiving the alms that sustain their stories, put forth the possibility of an after-life. Various religions foment an after-life that comes in a package with soothing music, innumerable virgins for those by-passed by earthly carnal pleasures, or the promises of other amenities that I have no urgency neither to list nor share. You can Google them. Maybe under “Heaven?”

Of course, not only the promise of an idyllic paradise appears in the dogmas of most religious storytelling. The living are also taught about the ominous possibility  of ending up in Hell, also known as The Inferno. Hell is an essential dish in  the after-life menu. 

Nobody wants to go to Hell, although many of us have been sent there—or have sent others there—many times. At least verbally. 

I happen to believe that it is more likely that we can find both Heaven and Hell right here on Earth. During our lifetime. And that makes life much more palatable and intriguing. It gives us a fighting chance to shape our brief passing through this earth.

My ironic first phrases are directed towards organized religions. They are not written to question the deep spiritual connections that the celebration of the Day of the Dead can provide for us. 

Thus, I certainly believe that our invited ancestors come and visit us on Nov. 2 and I welcome their visit. Otherwise, my year-long altar, that I adorn with cempazuchitl flowers (marigold, in English) and “pan de muertos” (bread for the dead) when November comes around, would be a lie. It is not. 

I know not to cry on that day (it would make the road slippery for the travelling souls!) and also to have some of their favorite food, that they will taste first, before our turn to eat it comes.

We need to discover as much as possible about those who came before us in our families. They inform us as to what they were and they might illuminate our paths as to what we are, or could become. There is always someone in our family tree whom we could identify as having “a common soulful connection” with us.

Which are not just made of physical DNA. We also have spiritual ancestral traits.

In San Francisco, specifically in the Mission District, since the 1970’s, an event takes place every Nov. 2. It is the Day of the Death Celebration and Procession. 

This year, there will not be a procession, which attracts many thousands of people. Responding to the world-wide pandemic called COVID-19, there will be a mostly virtual celebration, with few and limited in-person gatherings, trying to avoid the spread of the virus.

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The Day of the Dead Celebration has created deep roots in San Francisco. Not only in the hearts and minds of those who live in the Mission neighborhood, but also in the hearts and minds of people who live in the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

My participation in the event has made me aware of a very clear fact: the Mission community, through many of its cultural activities, such as the Day of the Dead Celebration, Carnaval, the mural art, the food, the music, plays a very important role in the general well-being of San Francisco. Specifically, its mental health. Those cultural activities are messages of hope, or protest, or they simply celebrate life. Or accept and honor Death, as a common final destination.

A phrase that I believe originated in the work carried out by the renowned healer Concha Saucedo, through the Instituto Familiar de la Raza, is a very positive mantra: “La cultura cura.” “Culture heals.” Culture is not something we are born with: we are born into it. We need to learn it, practice it, share it. It can be a healing journey.

Going back to the title of this column: We should not fear Death. We should fear not to live. Death is but a moment in our lives. Not to live fully can be a fearsome destiny.

This is our life: let’s go and peruse. Live. There are very high mountains and very low valleys. There are many trickery-filled turns everywhere. The ups and the downs are the rule. Life is a challenge. Also a possibility. 

Finally, let us be aware that not everyone has the luxury of living the life they would like, nor have even the time to imagine it. They are busy surviving.

Hopefully, those of us who have the time to think and celebrate poetry, music and cultural activities like the Day of the Dead, we can also work to make life on earth more enjoyable for everyone. 

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