All Hallows’ Eve is almost upon us. On this night, as tradition tells, the veil between life and death is at its thinnest.
Now THERE’S something to ponder as the afternoon of October 29 wends toward nightfall. I watch as shadows move up from the bases of the near hills to their crests. Red, orange, and yellow treetops look briefly like flames, before the sun disappears and the trees turn to silhouettes in the dusk. Soon, even the silhouettes will be gone… all having blended into the dark immensity of the nighttime sky.
So what is this veil that becomes porous on this one night each year? Is it a boundary between two different places? Does it define two different states of being? Is it something that protects us? Limits us? Do spirits pass back and forth from death to life and back again on this one night? Hmmm.
Maybe All Hallows’ Eve doesn’t reflect reality so much as a way of thinking about it – or a way of letting it in. Death, after all, is a reality every day. But maybe mortality is something that we only want to let into our thoughts once a year — living in varying states of denial about it for the other 364 days. Maybe the “veil” simply has to do with our own awareness of our own mortality. (As I write this I am outside, sitting by our chiminea. I hear a lone owl across the field in the distant, darkening woods … and I somehow take that to mean that I’m on the right track here!)
And what do you make of All Hallows’ Eve being followed by All Saints’ the next day and then All Souls’ the day after? I’ll tell you what my gut tells me (and I won’t look up the facts until I say what I intuit). I think All Hallows’ Eve is the complicated real deal! When confronted with the mysteries of mortality and death, we, and our ancestors before us, tremble in fear, awe, and fascination.
All Saints’ Day conjures for me the “sanitized” version of the challenging “messiness” that is human life … and mortality. It brings to mind an American movie that – rather than tolerate (even celebrate) mystery, pain, and ambiguity – just tacks on a happy ending and rolls the credits. (Of course, I may be entirely wrong about what is actually being observed on these days … this is basicaly free association on my part!)
All Hallows’ Eve makes me think of this lovely, mysterious poem by Wendell Berry:
To Know the Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Whether the poem conjures thoughts of mortality, or of the trick or treaters that will soon be scampering up your street, I think it’s onto something kind of hallowed … and there’s that owl again … so we must be on the right track here … don’t you think?