“Listen more often to things than to beings.”
—from "Spirits," a poem by Birago Ismael Diop
Every year around this time, there is a distinctive smell in the air and the trees sway like the whisper of a thousand voices. That’s how I know they are coming. At that point the perpetual altar in my heart begins taking place outside of me, for a few days, and it dances with joy at the thought of their coming.
First, the table that will be the altar. A few boxes on top to create different levels. I begin to think about the pictures I am adding to my altar today; the beloved friend who didn’t get to say goodbye, the one I loved, my grandparents, the cousin who left too soon. I allow myself to think about the ones whose pictures won’t be on my altar, but that I still remember.
The fragrance of the cemapsúchil fills the air; Grandfather Sun-made flower, a ray of light guiding them back, calling them home. It is a long way here. It is good to have some food and drinks ready, so they may quench their thirst, so they may eat and gain strength for the way back. I love adding chocolate and drinking chocolate caliente. I imagine a moment of communion that transcends the world of the living.
Once the altar is ready, I behold the sight of this place of encounter: they will come and will know they are missed. All of the times we spent together, all of the memories come rushing to us. Our elders told us, “To remember is to live again.” And that’s what we do when we allow ourselves to be surrounded by their presence and the stories of times we spent together.
My family and I gather. We tell stories, we laugh, we also cry a little, we rejoice in their company. Their stories come alive in our telling, and so does the love we still feel. I have learned to listen more often to things than to beings; to listen to my heart that knows a different way of knowing. My heart knows that the dead aren’t really dead; their stories are perpetually being told by the world around us; like trees swaying, like the whisper of a thousand voices.
Boundless Spirit, open our minds, our hearts, and all of our senses to a different way of knowing: the knowing of the heart that recognizes love transcendent, love everlasting, love that never dies.