May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your coming
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus,
once poor, may you have eternal rest.
November is traditionally a month Catholics dedicate to the holy souls in Purgatory. It’s a time to contemplate and pray for the dead. As the days shorten, the nights get a little bit darker as we inch towards the darkness’ apex at the solstice, it seems particularly natural to contemplate death and endings. Memento mori – remember you will die. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
When discussing death and endings, it is impossible not to think about the pandemic – still omnipresent, however much many of us try to pretend it isn’t – and all the people it has claimed and continues to claim. The families who have to miss loved-ones. The elders who were sacrificed on the altar of mammon. We might reflect, too, on those that have lost their lives this year in wars and aggression, from Palestine to Afghanistan, the migrants who are dying in Fortress Europe, the homeless and those marginalised who are suffering to protect capital. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Our ancestors’ bones, buried in the land, are a source of new life. Babies are born. We love and care for each other and our elders. We grieve losses together. We fight for justice together. We remember our history and traditions together. We love the land. And the olive harvest continues regardless.
It is too easy to retreat into doomerism. It is too easy to despair and become a nihilist. It isn’t strange that many, feeling the weight of injustice and a sense of impending climate doom, resort to giving up. But life has a tendency to renew itself. Hope can be revolutionary. James Baldwin once said “I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So, I am forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive, whatever we must survive.” Our ancestors’ bones, buried in the land, are a source of new life. Babies are born. We love and care for each other and our elders. We grieve losses together. We fight for justice together. We remember our history and traditions together. We love the land. And the olive harvest continues regardless. Hope can be renewed in the morning. I think of the words of Mahmoud Darwish, always with a smile:
We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
the aroma of bread at dawn,
a woman’s point of view about men,
the works of Aeschylus,
the beginning of love,
grass on a stone,
mothers living on a flute’s sigh
and the invaders’ fear of memories.
November is the month of the dead – our communal memento mori. But at the end of this November is Advent’s start, where we await the coming of the Light. And we remember that there is always hope. And that there is nothing more human than our tendency towards life. Struggle on, comrades. Struggle on.