Today is Halloween, and also the first day of the “Dia de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead Festival,” a Mexican holiday with Catholic and Aztec roots that’s gaining popularity here as the result of the increasing numbers of Hispanic friends and neighbors, and the release of Disney’s film Coco last year.
It’s a time of year when many cultures celebrate living friends and family, as well as those who have passed on.
I was leaving the Bar Mitzvah service of a family friend last Saturday when I heard about the shooting that’s since been described as the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.
A Bar Mitzvah is the traditional ceremony held to commemorate the point at which a boy begins his adult life in the Jewish religion so it struck me as ironic that the shooting had occurred at the Pittsburgh, “Tree of Life” Synagogue.
And the loose association of these diverse concepts of life and death have been in my thoughts ever since.
Adherents to Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike share the parable of the Garden of Eden, in which there was a Tree of Knowledge and a Tree of Life.
Adam and Eve were free to consume everything in the Garden except for the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Their doing so constituted humankind’s “Original Sin” and according to the mythology, thus began our fall from paradise and access to all it offered, including the fruit from the Tree of Life that bestowed immortality.
In Vermont and New England we have our own Tree of Life, traditionally planted in cemeteries throughout the region. It’s the Northern White Cedar or “Arbor Vitae” in Latin, translating to “Tree of Life,” and it’s known for its longevity and numerous healing qualities. Several Native American tribes considered the tree sacred. To the Chippewa it was “Grandmother Cedar.”
To extend this metaphor just a little bit further, a tree may have deep roots and a strong trunk, but it still needs occasional tending to remain healthy.
As Americans, we’re more alike than we are different. And at times like these, instead of becoming distracted by what separates us, we should be remembering what binds us together.