It's a time of straddling and blurring lines, of the constant presence of mortality. Fertility crosses into decay, and we gather a harvest, of sunlight, of sustenance, of memory. Identity blurs and stretches and we take our false faces on and off, swirled all around by falling leaves made remarkable as they flash sunset colors in their dying moments. We take stock of a summer and autumn gasping their last and prepare for the season of cold and dark and deprivation, unpacking the quilts and sweaters in the top of the closet, drawing thick curtains, looking inward. We take a long, lonesome stairway down into the anterooms of the Land of the Dead, lighting lanterns, wary of whispering spirits long ignored. Some of us erect altars to those we've lost, offering them some of the food and memories we've gathered, celebrating them in steady flames and bright colors against the increasing outdoor gray.
There's a magic to it, here as the curtains go down on the twilit remains of the day. Looking over what's ripe and what's rotten, we take in what will keep us warm and full as best we can. We look back because looking back is a necessary step in going forward. Without that harvest, we will never leave the time of masks, the place of skulls. We will never be able to move through the hallways of the living until we look at what is dying, what is dead. Without this pause at the moment of gathering darkness, when we gather our own close to us, we remain forever in that place of whispers and illusions.
There is plenty in this hour of the dead to appreciate, plenty to live for. We can put on faces that are often truer than the ones we had before, even in their transparency, be other than what we were, explode into behavior we would never feel free to enact in the sunlight. We can embrace mystery, letting shadows and bright decoration go dancing arm-in-arm. Nonetheless, it's simply not human to live forever in the liminal. It's not a place: it's the blurred line between here and there, now and then, alive and dead.
There's only one sort of creature who can live long in that borderland. Monsters are alive and well here, half-obscured, given their only chance to roam the streets unmolested. This hour of the dead is the only time we welcome monsters into our homes and neighborhoods. For once, they're celebrated, and their uncanny presence causes forbidden thrills.
It's the end of the evening, the moment of the dead, when the lines between worlds grow blurry. And monsters run free.
In order to move on into the night, we have to look them in the eye. We have to hold our monsters close. We have to acknowledge our dead. We have to look back.
There's an old story you've probably heard, but let's look back at it. Once upon a time, a God made a new being, split it into halves, and called them Lilith and Adam. That God insisted that they follow an order: that, though equals made of the same substance, one submit beneath the other. And she refused. The dialogue is simple:
"But I made you. Do what I say."
And she refused to participate in a system that marked her as less, and moved away to another place, there to couple in unthinkable ways with forbidden partners, there to set up her own way of being, there to become a mother of monsters. But there was a price, because that God had already replaced her with a newer, less proud woman, there to be a mother, too. And all Lilith's children would be taking a world they were not promised from Eve's children, you see, by simply living. The monsters would be taking human land and human food and human work away. They would suck the very blood from human infants. Teeming and multitudinous, they could not be trusted simply to thrive harmlessly, and so they were condemned. The children of the outside, of the otherworld, of pride and wrong attractions and unacceptable sex, the children part this and part that, were condemned to death. No matter how many came to this world each day, hundreds of Lilith's monster children were condemned to die daily so that the children of Eve, the planned children, the race that behaved and stayed in the lines, could thrive instead. And their mother, the defiant first woman , was doomed to an infinite and never-ending bereavement, screeching cold vengeance in the wilderness.
Generations have heard this story told as a warning, that the Mother of Monsters and her children were out there to take anyone who stepped outside the lines, outside the city, outside the rules. This is their time, the place of outsiders and border-riders, the hour of the dead. The monsters have their dead, too, after all. They loom close at our shoulders in this one moment of the year we invite them in. Some of us, given that warning as we stand on the brink of the dark, look out on our history and our dead, and we recognize that when we are systematically stamped out for competing with real people, when we are pushed out and starved and hunted for living unavoidably outside those lines, when our place at the blurring between here and there, us and them, merits a death sentence over and over...maybe we didn't have the mother we thought we did. Maybe we were simply listening to an unreliable authority who told us we belonged underneath, and needlessly complied. Maybe when the Mother of Monsters comes to breathe down our necks, the right response is take me.
It's time to look back. It's time to embrace the monster as a lineage of the defiant oppressed made powerful, suffering heavy losses but never, ever backing down.
It's time to remember our dead. And it's long past time to refuse their place, and our place, underneath. The authority that condemns us to die for our defiance of rules we never made is not an authority worth listening to, and we do not honor those who fell before us by rolling over below our so-called betters and taking it.
Once a year, the dead rise from below and speak. We ought to learn from their example.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Wake the Dead
I read this incredible piece and just had to share it!