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Halloween, death, and also life

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I have always liked Halloween. I grew up Catholic, and Halloween is followed two days later by All Souls’ Day. That time also includes El Día de Muertos. It is a time for thinking about death and those who have gone into it.

I have been aware of mortality–my own, and everyone’s around me–from a very young age. A cousin died at 10, when I was 2; I don’t know when I first became aware of it, but I was pretty young. (My earliest memory is sitting in our car and seeing her come to the hospital window to wave.) My grandfather, whom I loved dearly, died when I was 5. My newborn baby brother died when I was 6. (I have a photo of him in his coffin.) A classmate and her younger sister and another child were killed in a car accident the summer after we were in fourth grade. My best friend’s 16-year-old brother was killed in a diving accident when we were about 12.

When I was 5, and again when I was 7, I was seriously ill. I didn’t, I think, know at the time that I might die, but I wasn’t much older before I did realize that I could have. In a way, I think of every day I have had since then as lagniappe.

Death and the possibility of what comes after has always interested me. Being raised as a believer, I envisioned heaven, but I gave that up along with everything else theistic decades ago. The idea of some kind of “survival” after death, however, has continued to fascinate me.

I like cemeteries. So does our younger daughter. Both of us are interested in death, and neither of us fears it. She was quite young when she first told me she wasn’t afraid to die. (This isn’t “nature,” as she is adopted, and while I “nurtured” her interest and acceptance, I don’t think I initiated it.) For me, cemeteries do represent a kind of afterlife; as long as someone, even a stranger taking pictures or doing genealogy, recognizes one’s having existed, one is still “present,” in a sense, in the world. I acknowledge the reasons for not continuing with the burial-and-monument tradition, and I specify cremation for myself for those reasons, but I deeply regret the loss.

I mentioned genealogy there–that’s another of my interests. One of the commercials for Ancestry has a young man saying that you start to feel that you know the people you “meet” in researching, and I agree. For me, it isn’t just knowing “where I come from” except in a very general sense of coming from every human who came before me. The story of how we got to where we are has given me many of my other interests and hobbies throughout my life: studying California history, collecting old bottles (and especially digging for or otherwise finding them in situ), joining historical societies, visiting historical museums, collecting old things in general, exploring ghost towns, reading about the Old West…endless.

In a real sense, the dead are not dead to me, because I picture them (sometimes with literal pictures), I imagine their lives (from their writings or things they left behind), I treasure possessions they once treasured or maybe just used in daily life and discarded. This has helped me, I think, to see a common humanity in everyone–something I have felt from a very young age.

I neither believe nor disbelieve in ghosts. The word “ghost” can mean many things. Energy of some form that can be sensed by some living people under some circumstances–I think that’s a possibility. I have experienced some sensitivity to certain places and one very early odd experience, and people whose reports I trust have had experiences that hint at something we can’t otherwise explain. I don’t think that entities conscious of their “being” as the human they were exist, but I like to read fiction that tells how such existence might play out–and who knows?

As Carl Sagan pointed out, we are all star stuff. Before we were conceived, the energy and/or material for our existence was there, and after we die some of it persists in some form. That’s enough for me.

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Divisiveness in the current election?

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It’s something a lot of people are talking about, usually blaming those who think differently than they do.

The fact is that we were already divided, but people who held certain opinions didn’t feel free to express them till a leader came along and showed they can do so with impunity. The things we are learning about our relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors were true all along, but they were hiding them.

I think it’s important to always remember that the fact that people are publicly following the rules of civil behavior does not necessarily mean that they accept the rules, that they believe as their public behavior might indicate. That they don’t say racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic things in public doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe them. They may just be waiting for their chance to safely go public.

It’s discouraging, but appears to be true, that while conditions have improved (with still far to go in most cases!), over the course of my lifetime, for minorities, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and some others, and while many people have changed their viewpoints–their hearts, their consciences–over time, not everyone has. Some just took their hatred and prejudice into private until a man came along who told them they are right.

Election 2016

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I take this presidential election very seriously and very personally.

My children are immigrants and people of color. So is one of my grand-nephews. One of my nieces is Latina, and also my grand-niece. Among my cousins, through marriage and adoption, are black, mixed, Asian, and Latina/o people. There are people with physical disabilities and chronic medical conditions, including my son who has the same condition as the reporter whom Donald Trump publicly mocked. I don’t know of any Muslims, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I have LGBTQ relatives.

So I take the possibility of a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic president damn personally.

Hillary Clinton was not my first choice for Democratic nominee–Bernie Sanders was. But I saw no one in the Democratic or Republican field who was as unqualified as Donald Trump. I couldn’t imagine he would be a presidential nominee–and now he is. Hillary’s politics have much that I don’t like (mainly the same things I haven’t liked about Obama’s politics), but she is highly qualified to be president, and on many bases I agree with her viewpoints.

People matter to me. Even if none of Trump’s odious behavior and viewpoints touched me personally, I would still oppose him for his lack of qualification, for his reckless and ignorant approach to both domestic and world affairs, including nuclear weapons, as well as for his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic spewings. But the latter are directed at people I love, along with all the other people like them. I’ll bet that if you think carefully, you’ll find they are directed at someone you care about, too.

#Signs of Love

An Alison Kirkpatrick blog

Carrying It with Me

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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