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Lights for the Dead and Parades for the Living

We’re getting closer to darkness. El Día de Los Muertos reminds us how close we are to that needlehead thinness between living and passing; the passed and the still yet suffering. Two years ago my friend Ellen died in her sleep, bled into herself after many struggles with cancer. I can’t imagine her struggling because she smiled through anything. Even pain was a gift to be appreciated because it could be felt while living and she taught me that there is always something to be made of pain, if only sometimes to remind us of the present that needs to be lived. It’s taken me this long to realize that she’s perished, gone so far away. Yet tonight we summon each other.

I enter the portal, lift up the thin black-laced veil, surrounded by dancing stilt-walking skeletons, and candles to guide me down this crowded San Francisco street where the vessels have been prepared and carried. I move slowly with the crowd and find my way to the park where the aperture has been tended. There by that tree in Garfield Park, I find her and she finds me. As if time had not passed at all. Out of my red bag, I take out the large candle, the pomegranate, the apple, the two keys, the many small candles for all the people she touched with her compassion and love. I pause and light each one with my friend Tal. For once we have no words. I pause and then pull out our her steel-framed picture waving back at me from the beach with her one arm and other shrunken arm tucked close to her body, like all the people she loved and who took shelter there.  She waved and you couldn’t tell if it was a wave of farewell or hello or simply “Here I am”.  The ocean roared behind her and cool wet sand touched her bare feet.  I thought of her pain until the end. I thought of her happiness. And this time, I waved back.

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