Memento Mori

Everyone.  has to die once and then face the consequences.

Hebrews 9:27

One of the more curious and macabre aspects of Mexican culture is their reverence for death. Nosa Senora de la Santa Meurte – Our Lady of Holy Death – has a huge cult following that is growing fast across Mexico claiming millions of adherents. Outlawed by the Catholic Church, this folk saint is associated with healing, protection and safe delivery to the afterlife. While we in the north tend to regard death as horrorful and not to be discussed socially. In Mexico they openly acknowledge death and celebrate it on the Day of the Dead with public parades and festivals.

Many of the death ritualized masquerades in Mexico had their origins in the Aztec culture, an empire of blood sacrifices and skulls and glittering masks. “During the 20th century, a gay familiarity with death became a cornerstone of national identity. Mexico’s nationalization of death had a more nihilistic and lighthearted component. It is a modern refurbishment of a medieval theme.” writes Claudio Lomnitz as quoted by Paul Theroux. “The Mexican chases after death, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, and sleeps with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his lasting love.”

Is it any wonder? There are over 35,000 murders annually in Mexico – that’s almost 100 per day, a country with a population of 130 million. In 2018 in the U.S there were 15,500 reported murders.  In Canada during 2017, police reported 660 murders. Mexico’s violent past – the War of Independence, the Mexican American War, the Mexican Revolution, earthquakes and now the Mexican Drug War, only serve to reinforce the constant reminder, that death will strike each one at any moment. How morbid you may think. I tend to agree. For we gringos, (actually Canadians are not Gringos, only Americans are) it is hard to get our heads around this “pastime”. I am not a particular fan of the Day of the Dead,  Gothic masquerade parties, nor even much for Halloween anymore. But wait, there is something redeeming to this.  Practicing a frequent remembrance of death serves to make life more intense.  It increases one’s vitality.  It’s like waking up every morning and saying, “Hey I’m still here.” as Paul Theroux reflects.  We have seen this vitality in the eyes of Mexicans we meet – a reverence, gentleness, calmness, patience, humbleness and acceptance of life and death – the way it is. Memento mori – remember you will die – is a subtext of Mexican life.

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