Derek and I moved about six weeks ago to the Chicago neighborhood of Uptown, and one of the first things we noticed is how easy it is to find our spot on a map. Not only are we due west of the Montrose Harbor hook on the lake, but we are also between two big green areas which are not parks, but cemeteries. Walking by or taking the el past one of these two cemeteries every day has been just one reminder of a theme I’ve been noticing seemingly everywhere this fall: Día de los Muertos. This (primarily) Mexican festival, which runs from Oct. 31-Nov. 2, culminates in loved ones visiting the graves of, remembering, and offering gifts to deceased friends and family members who have passed away the previous year.
In addition to the cemeteries on either side of Uptown, this theme has presented itself in multiple other locations, prompting me to learn a little bit about the holiday itself in the past couple of months. The recent animated movie The Book of Life introduces the tradition in a format directed toward kids, and while I haven’t seen it, there were ads all over the el platforms leading up to its October release a few weeks ago. Also, I spent time in Raleigh earlier this fall and visited Café de los Muertos, which not only serves a great cup of coffee, but also invites exploration of the various Día de los Muertos artwork and decor throughout the place. Another reminder was when Derek and I (very quickly) toured the annual exhibit surrounding the holiday at the National Museum of Mexican Art here in Chicago when we were nearby for one of his gigs.
All of these reminders got me thinking about my own friends and family who have either passed away or lost one of their own loved ones this year. I know it sounds cliche, but as I get older, it seems like the world moves faster and faster (probably just because I’m getting slower and slower), and so today, although I will not be visiting their graves, I will be taking a few moments to think about, remember, and pray for those people. In the church I went to growing up, the pastor would offer special prayers at Christmas for everyone who had had a baby or was expecting during that year, and then at Easter would specifically pray for those who had lost someone or who had passed away earlier in the year. Even as a child I felt the profundity of the experience (although I definitely would not have used that word!), and I appreciate the impulse behind Día de los Muertos to set time aside specifically for remembrance and honor.
I know someday after I’ve lived in Uptown for a while, I’ll begin taking my surroundings for granted and perhaps even stop noticing the cemeteries, but in the meantime, passing by will continue to serve as my own little (or in the case of the giant Graceland cemetery – big -) memento mori.