Honoring ancestors is a shared human experience all around the world, found in a wide variety of religions and cultures. In India there’s the Hindu tradition of Pitru Paksha, Qingming in China, and Chuseok in South Korea, to name just a few of these traditions.
In Mexico, “…the Day of the Dead is a way of maintaining a healthy and intimate relationship with the unknown and is not only an occasion for festivities but also for a profound recollection of those who died and invitation to reflect on life and death.”
The particular brand of white culture in my family didn’t have any kind of ritual to honor our ancestors. I don’t know anything about the generation which came before my grandparents beyond my Great-aunt Sadie, who made killer pecan pie.
Coming up to All Saints Day and El Día de los Muertos, I’ve been craving a ritual which asks me to slow down, to recall the impact of the lives of my loved ones who’ve passed, and to remember that it’s healthy to be reminded of our mortality. So to that end, I’d like to tell you a tiny bit about George Ronald Hadley, my dad.
My dad was one of the most creative human beings I have ever known. He defied the stereotype of the eccentric artist, instead carrying himself through the world as a (somewhat nerdy) reserved scientist. As a theoretical physicist, he lived in the world of unknown solutions, writing in mathematical equations the way I do in English. When he’d come home from work in the evenings, introvert that he was, he’d squirrel away into his garage-lair where he would continue to create. Sometimes it was landscapes based on photographs he took, using oil paints or oil pastels. Often he was building furniture he’d designed and then craft with exquisite detail. But his first love was music. My dad was a jazz trumpeter.
These are some of the best gifts my dad gave to me. (Except science – the science-aptitude gene decidedly skipped right over me. I couldn’t science my way out of a paper bag.) I treasure every memory of my dad, and count knowing him as one of the biggest privileges I was given in life.
I wonder who you’ve loved in your life, who left a lasting, loving mark on you? Whether you have a cultural celebration or not, do yourself a favor and take a short break sometime today. Remember your people with gratitude. Let them remind you of the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of lasting mark you’d like to have on others.
And if that time involves half a bag of uneaten candy, I won’t judge you.