I harvested my “Mexican” marigolds for my Day of the Dead altar. I wished I had a sugar skull, but my little sombrero-wearing skeleton and my painted wooden cats brought it to life for me. In Ajijic I went to the cemetery for el dia de los muertos, watched while everyone worked on their plots of land, helped one woman carry a hose and bucket to her spot. A couple roasted fresh garbanzo beans just outside the gate. I bought a small bag and ate them while I wandered. This year I took Halloween off from work. I’ve always wanted to honor the eight main pagan holidays, and because this is the pagan new year, it seemed like a good time to finally begin. I spent the afternoon building my altar. I hosed off the patio table, and I gathered all my bird figures, my big metal raven, the rounded dove. The eleven birds became the base, and I added in the painted cats and my gargoyle from Joe and the skeleton with the sombrero, two apples, a pumpkin, a pomegranate, a sunflower seed I found amidst the thistle, the smooth stone with the little black painted bird. I picked 44 blooms from the marigolds who were blocking my pathway and placed them one by one on my altar. I tucked six of them in the frames of the wire birds my mother gave me. Then I pulled the bushes out by their roots and cut them up in small pieces over the trash can. I can still feel the extraordinary relief I felt looking at the cleared stretch of stepping stones.
I lit a candle on the altar in the late dusk and walked out through the gate for my evening walk, unimpeded for the first time in months. On my way home, I stood for a long time in the dark before a neighbor’s home marveling at the eerie lit-up other world they’d created for Halloween. I felt enchanted. When I walked back through my gate and saw my candle-lit altar in the courtyard, it held the same mystical charm, as though the veil between the worlds was indeed flickering. That night I remember coming halfway to wakefulness again and again. A part of me was outside the screen door with my altar. I remember whispering the names of my own dead, the long list a living, rolling thing in the dark. I have a misty memory of praying, of letting go, of turning a corner in the night. And every morning since I have been happy. I sweep the floor and grin. I remember how it rained in August and how sad it made me when my heart didn’t dance. Today it rains again, and I sit under my big yellow umbrella. I listen to the raindrops falling on the fabric. I smell the wet dirt-on-concrete smell, and my heart lifts like it used to. I am full of smiles and eager peace. I breathe the quiet in the air. I sense we have as a hemisphere moved into a new stretch of time. I drink in the changed light. And I wonder if maybe this is a new happy. Maybe this kind of happy is here to stay. Toco madera. Touch wood. Oh, and happy new year, too. :)