Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: All Souls Day

The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux.

Remembering matters

All Souls Day, because remembering matters

The words "All Souls Day" and "Los Días de los Muertos" float above a fabric pattern of dog "muertos," skeletons of dogs in the style of Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons.

Yesterday’s post questioned who “the saints” in All Saints Day are. And we found the answer varies.  Today, however, the festival is “for the rest of us.” This is because, no matter who we are or who we love, remembering matters.

Some traditions roll All Souls up with All Saints. Some particularly focus on the “innocent souls” of deceased babies or (a more recent take, which informed my choice of a background design for the header) animals.

Many Christian traditions see All Souls as the day to commemorate the “Faithful Departed.” In other practices, and in non-Christian traditions, we generally commemorate ancestors, departed friends and honored family members whom we personally remember during this season. In other words, All Souls is for “the rest of us.

Rontisha Brown holds a memorial candle and wears a memorial t-shirt for her brother Rahkeem at a New Year's memorial vigil for murder victims in Liberty City, FL in 2019. Photo by Maria Alejandra Cardona.
Rontisha Brown holds a memorial candle and wears a memorial t-shirt for her brother Rahkeem at a New Year’s memorial vigil for murder victims in Liberty City, FL in 2019. Photo by Maria Alejandra Cardona.

How do we commemorate a deceased person?

One way is with an album or display of photos or videos, or small items the person used or liked. I’ve seen many commemorative albums or slideshows at funerals or memorial services that would be equally appropriate for today

One of my most enduringly popular blog posts described the idea of creating a virtual ofrenda, patterned on the memorial displays set up for the Day(s) of the Dead ceremonies.

Some families create a memorial wall inside their home, where photos of deceased relatives or friends are displayed. There’s also a brisk trade done in memorial items, such as statues, candles, jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments, or other items. 

Some people create memorial T-shirts, especially the families of those who have died by violence. I’ve seen memorial statements placed on cars, too. Another way is to create a landmark. You could plant a tree or donate a memorial bench or other feature to a public area. Many create memorial websites.

Archaeologists excavated the bones of two women, along with shells, necklaces, and antlers, in a Middle Stone-Age grave in Téviec, Brittany.
Archaeologists excavated the bones of two women, along with shells, necklaces, and antlers, in a Middle Stone-Age grave in Téviec, Brittany.

Why create a memorial?

The need to create memorials for deceased family or group members is one of the oldest human impulses we know about. And that’s precisely because archaeological excavations of ancient graves imply so many memorial practices. The contents of ceremonial burials, have yielded many clues about early cultures. 

Throughout time, humans have had to grapple with the reality of death, since eventually it comes to us all. We deal with grief and loss in part by creating memorials. The creative and restorative process of a healthy grieving cycle is a painful, essential reality of our existence

The memorials may be different. The lengths and intensities of grief may vary. But the basic human need remains the same. It is embedded in the idea that to be forgotten is to truly be annihilated

Whether it be collective memory or individual memory, remembering matters. This is why we have funerals, create grave markers, hold vigils, and create public spaces such as the Holocaust Museum or The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

No matter how we remember, and no matter who . . . very simply, remembering matters.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux
The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Fabric.com’s “Timeless Treasures Day of the Dead” fabric design collection, which I used for the background of my header image for today. This one is called “Pups Black.” Many thanks to PressFrom and Maria Alejandra Cardona for the photo of Rontisha Brown memorializing her murdered brother Rahkeem Brown. The image of the ancient burial is courtesy of Red Ice. The Audra Melton photo from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is from The New Yorker. I deeply appreciate you all!

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.

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