Footprints of the Dead

This weekend was Halloween and All Saints Day–two weird things I don't really understand.  I've never known how to approach the spectrum of places and people we become when we aren't people anymore. On Sunday, I prayed for my deceased grandparents, uncle, a small child who died in an accident in Alaska.  This is what we're supposed to do–pray for people who have “gone before us.”  The Christian belief in Purgatory is that this is where we go to wash off all the residue that has stuck to us from our past sins.  I always thought of it as a scary limbo; a place I knew so little about, I was more afraid of it than the concreteness of hell.

Being cleaned off can be a scary thing.  In fact, I think most humans enjoy residue.  Is this where tattoos come from?  Are we trying to imprint on ourselves some kind of unwashable statement?  Is this why we have a tendency, despite our better judgment that simple is easier, to become hoarders? Even when I give my dog a bath, he wriggles right out of my hands and acts like he hates being scrubbed even though he loves both water and a good rub down.  My vet said to never wash him too many times, or I'd rinse off his natural oils.

I think the idea is that if we ever fully forget or forgive, we'll be missing something that once made up a large part of who we were.  I think fear is why so many people, including myself, take photographs obsessively and write things frantically down.  What would happen to us if when we showered, we lost our memories?  Would we have a better day or a worse one?

This is what I wonder about dying, if we lose our pasts or if everything comes back to us with transparent clarity.  I would hope there would be some middle ground for me to burn all the bad.  Luke and I were driving through the mountains this weekend where the Hayman fire destroyed thousands of acres of forests, and all that's left are tumbled trees and singed grass.  I know the fire was an act of arson, but what remains is something beautiful in its starkness, and the trees almost look like an artist placed them in perfect criss-crosses, cross-hatching the side of dusty hills.

I remember seeing this in New Orleans, too, when they cleared many parts of the city out, and what was left was something a little less populated, but a lot more focused on being.  Technically (and controversially), this is called a “reduced footprint”– when the space a city once took up is shrunk down to accommodate the abundance of needs that weren't being met.

The latest rage is the pine beetle "epidemic" in the mountains, which is "killing off" large plots of trees.  We have lost touch with the idea of harvest, with the fact that the land turns itself over.  The most recent political campaign I heard outside of Silverthorne was that we have to get someone in office who will stop this pine beetle problem.  Problem is: the beetles aren't a problem at all, our collective pack-rat-ism is.  We don't "turn ourselves" over.  It's considered better to do more exercising, eating, have more relationships, jobs, hobbies, cars, and activities than less.

In an Italian calendar I have, one of the quotes says, “Abundance is the best dance,” but I often wonder if the opposite isn't true.  I am working with this idea in my manuscript and for my job, which requires me to an over-abundance of foods that my body can't physically digest.  The imbibing of excess is more paralyzing than life-giving, but what I see in progressivism is an obliviousness to the fact that more-more-more can be a very painful thing.

Is there something about destruction that rebuilds?  I'm not saying hurricanes and disasters happen so that lives will be better, but I am saying that our potential for being better might start with a lessening; something I never hear presidential candidates mention because it's not the direction we're going even though I think we need to.  Maybe fires and floods strip us down to the bare essentials, and maybe essentials can only be called by their name if they are bare.