Here’s what happens: At some point when you’re young, you face your first terrible, unexpected death. Some people, it is true, are born or raised in tragic circumstances, and death surrounds them: Iraqi children right now don’t know their first experience with death, because it is a background to their lives. But in more normal, more privileged circumstances, we recognize a moment as shifting things for us. My beloved, adored grandfather when I was nine. My father’s close friend when I was 16 (the friend was in his late 20s or early 30s; he died in a bizarre mountain-climbing accident). My fiance when I was 24.
We carry those dead with us. They are a personal photo wallet; we bring them to our dumb suppers, and we can allow them to change us.
And people keep dying. People we love, people near to us, people we admire from afar. People who are very old, and for whom death was timely, people for whom death was tragically young. Illness, accident, suicide, murder, war…death piles up.
And then, you are no longer young, and the people you carry with you are legion. It’s not a few photos in your wallet anymore, it’s an album.
This isn’t a terrible thing, this is nature. At Samhain, when we cast the circle, we are Between the Worlds. On the day when the veil between living and dead is most thin, we share our circle with beloveds on both sides, and if we are blessed, both sides are more crowded than we can accomodate, because our love is so big.
There are more people I love than would fit into my circle. Just among Pagans, just among people who might, potentially, have made it to ritual this weekend, there are more people I love than the room we used would accommodate. That’s a lot of love.
And among the dead? There were more whom I love than I had time to name. More than I remembered to name. More than I can count. My honored dead were with me, beloved, wept for, missed, and celebrating. I am sorry, so sorry, for the losses that came too soon. But I am happy for the love.