Being dead never felt so alive

Written by Sven Eberlein

Happy Dia de Los Muertos! My favorite holiday, honoring the dead and inviting us to have an open dialog with our own mortality, and perhaps live life just a bit more fully.

I posted a piece entitled Let’s Have Fun at a Death Party about this celebration in my neighborhood at Elephant Journal, so if you can, give it some views and love. But as a bonus, I’m sharing a bunch more photos of the procession and altars here in the Mission and in Hayward.

Have a great day honoring your ancestors, and don’t forget to vote, cause you know they’d want you to.

Update: Mission Local just put together a slideshow of the pics.


Death and celebration don’t usually get to tango in our collective psyche, and yet, every year on November 2nd, right down the street from my house, a throng of hip-shaking, candle-carrying and guitar-strumming neighbors do just that: Celebrate the dead.



It’s my favorite holiday, not only because it brings out some of the most artistic and colorful forms of human expression I’ve ever seen, but because for one day we all get to hang out with each other’s ancestors as if they lived right around the corner.



In The Mission, our deceased are often vegetarian, ride their bikes, and have been known to toke on the occasional reefer. In this sea of skeletons there’s tons of music, drumming, and dancing, giving quite literal meaning to the shaking of bones. The ancestors are showered with generous helpings of fresh tamales, sugar skulls, and Negra Modelos, and it’s not unusual that there’s enough to go around for us mortals. Death never felt so full of life.


This fiesta is far from being a boisterous bash, and upon entering Garfield Park, host to an astonishing array of motley and painstakingly arranged altars, you immediately understand why. The ink on many of the photos of departed loved ones has barely dried and the tender faces on some of them belong to slain teenagers and victims of childhood cancer. A couple of years ago, the baby clothes hanging on a line between two trees nearly broke my heart. There’s a solemn feel in the air, a dignified volume of voices, a quiet overtone to the drums, and a respect for individual space in the sea of humanity. You sense the loss. You feel the pain. You wonder why.

And that’s the point.



It’s probably fair to say that death is one of the most taboo subjects in the US and most of the western world, with cultural values and entire industries designed to keep us from having to deal with our own mortality. It’s almost as if we’re in the closet — or at least in a perpetual state of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — about the most natural event on earth and the one thing we all have in common, not only with each other, but with all living creatures on this planet: the fact that we’re all going to die.



Inviting the ancestors out for a stiff drink and a few hearty laughs on a cold November night can go a long way in making friends with mortality. It’s a good reminder that they’re not so far away from us and we’re not so far away from them. Better yet, taking an occasional peek across the perceived great divide between the here and there is like standing in front of the great window to the universe and seeing our souls reflecting back at us. By offering these tokens of earthly flavor, goodness and beauty to those who have crossed over before us, we’re also making a connection with the part of ourselves that never left the other side.



Tonight, I will once again be walking the streets of The Mission, alongside singing ghosts and dancing skeletons, partaking in an unabashed display of joy and reverence for those loved ones who are no longer among us in the flesh but whose evocation invites us to wander closer to that eternal source from which we all spring. For just one night, as I’ll be drifting from flower, candle, and any object imaginable-covered altar to altar, I’ll get to revel in the creative spirit unleashed by the presence of our ancestors. I’ll get to feel happy and comfortable in the face of death. The secret to life—after all, and according to Eckhart Tolle—is to die before you die and find there’s nothing to be afraid of.



photos by Debra Baida & Sven Eberlein
read the whole essay at Elephant Journal
If you’re in the neighborhood, please support the Marigold Project who’s been organizing the event for years and could use some donations.

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Sven Eberlein

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