When death came marching in last week

This past week, appropriately enough when Mexicans celebrated the Day of the Dead, we witnessed four different facets of death and the reactions it elicited from different people.

The massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, ironically named The Tree of Life, was a horror that left decent people speechless. It’s precisely on those occasions when the president is called to act as the nation’s grief counselor and hand-holder.

Instead, President Trump acknowledged the tragedy then went on—just a few hours later—to cheer-lead a raucous rally of supporters in Illinois. From there he went farther afield, to ask why the synagogue didn’t have armed guards, and attacking the media and other opponents, real and imaginary, a run-on tantrum that if anything confirmed his lack of empathy, narcissism and lack of basic decency.

Couldn’t he just express his personal grief over the massacre, and then just shut up, while the nation absorbed the meaning of the tragedy? Or suspend his politicking and tweeting for several days out of respect for the victims and their families, rather than continue to stoke sectarian rancor?

The crowded and chaotic highway to heaven.

On Sunday, several members of the San Miguel Community Church which Stew and I attend, signed a card expressing sympathy and solidarity with the congregation of the local Jewish Community Center. Though I didn’t get to sign the card, I was proud people in our congregation were so thoughtful.

More significant was the church’s Day of the Dead fundraiser, planned weeks before and held on Monday afternoon. Incongruous as it may seem to those who live outside Mexico, this celebration of the dead was a festive event, heavy on typical decorations, food and entertainment. One hundred and thirty-two people paid a hefty eighty-five dollars each and the event netted over eight thousand dollars—a very significant sum in Mexico—that will go to support an organization designed to help rural women improve their lives and those of their families.

The following Thursday several church members gathered at the American section of the local cemetery to clean the graves of expats buried there. It was a study in contrasts: To reach this area one had to walk through the main part of the cemetery where Mexicans did their own ritual cleaning and tidying up of the family gravesites.

If the American section was very neatly and uniformly laid out and maintained, the Mexican counterpart was a collection of every conceivable gravesite design, laid out bumper-to-bumper and resembling a traffic jam honking to get to Heaven. Americans dusted off some gravesites and put flowers on others here and there but there really wasn’t much maintenance to be done.

Touching up the family tree.

The Mexican side, on the other hand, smelled of flowers, spray paint (to touch up rusting metal railings) and Fabuloso, a sharp-smelling all-purpose detergent. People brought picks and shovels, bags of potting soil and live plants in preparation for the main vigil for the dearly departed that night. A mariachi band in full regalia tuned up and a priest cleaned up an altar in preparation for a mass scheduled to begin a half-hour before.

The atmosphere on either section was respectful but hardly morbid—just a celebratory tip of the hat to those who had come before us. I told Stew I wouldn’t mind having my ashes buried at such a beautiful, disparate place.

Amal Hussain (NYT)

Also on Thursday came the news that a seven-year-old Yemeni girl named Amal Hussain, whose picture had appeared in the New York Times the week before, had died from starvation. Amal is one of an estimated 1.8 million malnourished children in Yemen, a man-made humanitarian catastrophe perpetrated by the incessant attacks by Saudi Arabia, one of America’s staunchest allies.

Following allegations that the Saudi regime may have been involved in the murder of a Saudi journalist in Turkey, and the growing international outcry of the humanitarian situation in Yemen, there’s now talk of a cease-fire to take effect within the next 30 days.

As we mourn this tragedy, we must remember that “Amal” is the Arabic word for “hope,” and indeed hope her death was not in vain.

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