I have been a native, with ebb and flow, of the Bay Area most of my life. I have spent well on at least a quarter of my life here. Nevertheless, despite going to Pride, various events at UC Berkeley and Cal State East Bay, it wasn't until this past week that I ever went to the huge Dia de Los Muerto's event in San Francisco.
Dia de Los Muerto's is an unusual event from just a human perspective. Death is something most human beings only tacitly accept. Few ever face it head on. The fear is almost unreal. There is also a level of denial among many about it. A lot of people act as if firearms, hard drugs or other creations that kill human beings are hyped up and not dangerous at all. Many people have long acted as if war is something beyond just an insane orgy of killing and viewed it with romance.
Dia de Los Muerto's faces death face first, however. The name itself has "Dead" at its center and the makeup, which almost all attendees including me, put on is disturbingly morbid. The paint and makeup people put on doesn't just look like a skeleton - one is done up to really look like the dead, with sullen eyes. The woman who painted my face even added puss to my paint.
I have no doubt that, even if celebrated, the holiday is still uncomfortable for many. Too many are taken too fast for strange reasons - shootings, drug overdoses and illnesses all take our best with little impunity. The most stirring point of the entire parade was the end point, in which an entire park was layered with the memories of fallen loved ones. One family was even selling T-shirts to raise for their mother's funeral, a small but harsh reminder that our market economy doesn't cater to human emotional needs at all.
One of my roommates, who has less than stellar opinions of religious institutions like the Catholic Church, noted how "spiritual" the procession was. No matter what chauvinism pits the secular and the religious against each other for tit for tat, the need for spirituality and the communal expression of it is deep in the human psyche, as critical and undeniable as hunger or sexual longing.
It's also a beautiful thing - and it lives in others even beyond our own death.