The Mexican fiesta, Day of the Dead is almost upon us; so sugar skulls and marigolds are dancing through my head.

That early 20th century curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce from his ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ defined

Dead, adj.

“Done with the work of breathing; done
With all the world; the mad race run
Through to the end; the golden goal
Attained and found to be a hole!”

He was later swallowed up into the immense maw of the Mexican Revolution so we will never know if that bitterly cynical definition matched his own end.

But however it turned out for Ambrose; whether it was a bullet, a bottle, some broad, or a knife leading to the hole of a shallow grave somewhere in northern Mexico, I personally believe that most of the rest of us Americans are also not on very good terms with our impending demise.

We Americans prefer not to think about death – at least not our own anyway – as dying possesses a highly negative coefficient value of entertainment. But when we absolutely have to, we like to think of death in an abstract way. Maybe that’s because we believe that for ourselves, death is so far out in the future that we can ignore it in the here and now. And when someone we know dies, we prefer to quickly dispense with the reality of it by consoling one another that they went to a better place.

And in case you didn’t know it, most everybody in America believes that when they die they’ll go to a better place. I like that. It is a huggy-warm blanket feeling that requires no thinking whatsoever. It’s also so morally inoffensive that it broaches no argument. Besides, who has time these days to either participate in or learn some really complicated belief system? And dying, going to a better place is really the ultimate happy ending. And we Americans love happy endings.

Someone whom I no longer respect the least little bit anymore –  a poor (poor) early role model – once infamously stated that “Death is the biggest trip of them all. That’s why they save it for the last.”

Like – just who exactly are ‘they’ anyway? And just so you know, that was a Peruvian born American educated anthropologist speaking who spent years masquerading as a Mexican-American shaman. And just how f**ked up is that anyway? But he’s dead so I guess it doesn’t really matter now. Although I do find some delicious irony wondering just how that philosophy is playing out for him these days.

All poking fun at dead people aside – do we Americans believe that disregarding death gives us license to titillate ourselves with the idea of it; meaning that we can choose to view death, killing and dying as entertainment? And is it maybe because death, like its first cousin, evil have been pushed so far to the fringe that their realities have traded places with conceptual parodies?

After all, our children listen to death metal music, we watch comedies about the living dead, and as we age most of us are deliberately steered into expensive and exhaustive medical treatment programs that terminate at some point in sterile white tiled rooms upon which time, the remains are burned.

So you might wonder how my Mexican neighbors view death? To begin with it’s really quite complicated; Octavio Paz wrote pages and pages about it in his collection of essays ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’.

In one place he writes, “Our contempt for death is not at odds with the cult we have made of it. Death is present in our fiestas, our games, our loves and our thoughts. To die and to kill are ideas that rarely leave us. We are seduced by death.”

But in short, they also celebrate it, kind of. There is a 3 day fiesta that involves the usual eating, drinking and the not so usual overnight graveyard vigils. And although it starts on October 31st, it shares nothing in common with the modern day celebration of Halloween.

 

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