Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dia de los Muertos 2013

Today is Halloween. In addition to being a high holy day for Brach's, Nestlé, and Russell Stover—as well as for costume makers and vintage clothing stores everywhere—there are deeper, less materialistic roots to this pagan cross quarter day, or Samhain (which for some reason is pronounced SOW-in). 

The name, Halloween, comes from a foreshortening of All Hallows Eve: the day before All Saints Day, Nov 1. It is the day, reputedly, when the veil between the temporal and spiritual worlds is at its thinnest—when it is easiest to pass from one to the other, and back again.

In Mexico, this time is honored as the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. It is a family holiday where all are encouraged to remember those no longer with us, especially those who have passed in the last 12 months. While there is a somber quality to recalling loss, this is an up-tempo holiday, where gravestones and altars are colorfully decorated and favorite foods are consumed or left in remembrance. The energy is neither funereal, nor morbid. It's a celebration.

In that spirit, I want to offer brief tributes to those in my circle of acquaintance who have died in the last year. In chronological sequence, I lost the following five friends since Halloween a year ago:

Michel Desgagnes (Jan 12)
Michel was a French Canadian community networker, connected with La Cité Écologique, a vibrant well-established ecovillage in de Ham-Nord, Quebec, launched in 1984. He was stricken with meningitis and died suddenly. While it's always shocking when someone you knew as a blithe and robust spirit succumbs to illness—at age 45 no less—it's a sobering reminder that one never knows how much sand is left in anyone's hourglass.

My fond last memory of Michel was at the national cohousing conference in Washington DC in June 2011, when he won the raffle allowing him to select any item from the vast array of auction goodies. Without hesitation, he chose one of the less expensive items with a solid community pedigree: a Twin Oaks hammock—much to the chagrin of the Coho/US Executive Director, Craig Ragland, who was expecting to be able to outbid everyone else to secure that distinctive piece of casual furniture for his backyard in Bothell WA. While it would be inappropriate to say that Craig took his loss lying down—after all, he didn't get the hammock—he did take it with grace.

I still retain my final image of Michel with his radiant, Christmas-morning countenance when his winning number was announced.

Donald Walters (April 21)Also known as Kriyananda, Donald was a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. He started Ananda Village in Nevada City CA in 1968, which later blossomed into a collection of eight intentional communities worldwide, plus as many as 100 meditation and teaching centers.

He had lived a full life and passed peacefully at his community enclave in Assisi, Italy, at age 86. For a more complete elegy, see my blog of April 26.

Of the five people I'm remembering today, Donald is the only one I never met. He is included here because my life has been devoted to building community and promoting cooperative culture, and Kriyananda was a fellow traveler of the first water. When someone's light burns that brightly, we are all touched by the shadow of its passing.

Rob Dubose (Sept 10) 
Rob died tragically as the result of head injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. He was, I believe, in his early 40s. I first met him in 2006, as a member of the facilitation pool at Pacifica Cohousing in Carrboro NC. Later that year he enrolled in the two-year Integrative Facilitation training that Ma'ikwe and I taught in the Tarheel State, having secured the financial aid of the Quaker school where he taught as an expense in support of continuing education. (As a social change agent, it's always inspiring when an employer sees the value of training in facilitation.)

I had last seen Rob in January, when I bumped into him and his teenage daughter at the Weaver Street Market in downtown Carrboro. We talked about trying to get together while I was in town, but it didn't happen. Now it's too late.

June Huebner (Oct  4)My aunt lived until 92, when pneumonia claimed her. Sadly, her participation in the here and now had been sharply diminished by dementia the last two decades, and it was my sense that she was ready to go. 

She was my father's younger sister, and the last living member of that generation of my immediate family. While you might suspect that such a close blood relative would be well known to me, that was not the case. My father did not get along well with his sister and he died in 1989, unreconciled with his only sibling. While I'm confident that my father's story of the dynamic between them differed substantially from June's (and I don't expect to ever know the full story of how their relationship broke down), the fact is that they both played a role in the tragedy of their estrangement, and our family never spent time with June or her family once my grandfather died in 1974 and was no longer there to insist that both of his children attend family functions.

Fortunately for June, she had the loving devotion of her long-time husband, Fred, and her son, John, to sustain her through her long decline.

Jim Estes (Oct 5)
Jim was the husband and lifelong partner of Caroline Estes. Together they were part of the pioneering group that founded Alpha Farm (Deadwood OR) in 1972. He had been in frail health for a number of years, and was stricken with a massive stroke that claimed his life at the ripe age of 91.

Jim was a Southern gentleman from Alabama who had a career as a newspaperman with the San Francisco Chronicle. As a professional editor he found it hard to turn aside his critical eye and would recreationally mark up restaurant menus whenever he and Caroline ate out—which they enjoyed doing. In Alpha's early years, his salary was crucial in keeping the community financially solvent as it carved out a niche for itself in one of the finger valleys of the Oregon Coast Range between Eugene and Florence.

While Jim mostly served in the background, in support of his dynamic and better-known partner, they were a devoted couple with deep affection for one another, and his gentle upbringing and demeanor helped establish a standard for civility and graciousness at Alpha which always stood out for me in the informal, and sometimes callow world of intentional communities. His sardonic wit inserted into side comments were always a highlight of my visits to the community, and I'll miss his precision with words.

• • •
Tonight I'll place five stones on my altar, and take several breaths invoking the memory of each of these five souls. For today is their day.

1 comment:

emily.bronte said...

best part of this post is always stood out for me in the informal, and sometimes callow world of intentional communities
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