In November: The Uses of Death

Masters of the world say communities have to be voracious readers for civilization to progress. As I came across this book, "Cities of the Dead," by Joseph Roach (1941), I thought there was something special about the topic, because we are the living and soon, we would all die. Of course, everyone must savor the life we have because life is a gift from God. Yet, life is a balanced equation. It comes complete with death. Birth is equal to death. That is why Jesus Christ came for us, to give us more, that we may be worthy and happy of the present. The present will be tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the next past. Such is the cycle of time. Death has many uses.

Cities of the Dead showcases murals, cemeteries, burials, festivals, historical monuments, art, and pictures of cities that convey no words but a heritage. Codes, symbols, and issues suggest functions to be deciphered by scholars. The forgotten dead but not gone opens a collective memory for the living.

Moreover, poets sing about death. Writers tell stories about death. Going back James Joyce "The Dead" and a kids tale "The Selfish Giant" spark brilliance of sentimentalism and paranoia about a history that must be restored and a memory that must be redefined.

The light of the dead would not leave the living unfulfilled. The living has to fulfill something for them. The common ceremony of the nine-day prayer connects a process of life and immortality.

The book "An Echo in the Bone" (1974), a play by Jamaica dramatist Dennis Scott, describes the structure of the Nine-Night Ceremony, which through the ritual magic of the Jamaican practice of obeah, welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred. Here the playwright shows how the voices of the dead may speak through the bodies of the living.

Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart, 1958) shares to readers a story that dramatizes the regularity of an ancestor's return, not as supernumeraries to the apocalypse but as an annual board of visitors. Here shows that memory circulates and migrates, passing like gossip from location to location as well as from generation to generation through the hands of those who possess it and those whom it possesses.

On the other hand, the rites of Christian burial, inserts a living memory. Catholics celebrate death in codes and observance of holy days, feast days and other ceremonies. These remembrances show the participation of ancestral spirits called "Saints" inspiring the present world.

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Also on Ezine by rosalinda flores martinez


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