Today is All Souls’ Day. Collegium Cantorum is singing Anerio’s Requiem at Cistercian Abbey. I’m not sure what to feel. I think we’ve all lost more people than we can count. I want to remember them all. But I also know they’d be most worried about whether I’m doing my best or not. And I personally am worried about the living most especially. There are certain people I want to believe immune from death at this moment.
To go back a bit: I don’t think any of us want each person we’ve lost to merge into a collective “the dead.” It gets tricky how to do justice to them. Some people create well and we can engage their art. It’s not a best case scenario, not at all. But it does push us to reconstruct a voice, to pay more attention to one who is gone than we might if they were alive. Most people exhaust themselves in endeavors that don’t last beyond their lives, or are invisible. Remembering them is in a way more powerful than constant engagement with the past’s opinions. I wrote on The Weakerthans’ “Night Windows” some time ago:
The nature of this possibility is curious: she’s dead, but because they did walk together, or may have walked together, the impossible wish is based on the actual. Possibility leads to impossibility back to possibility: perhaps death isn’t a going away, but a cycling in and out of existence.
We do encounter those who have died in the world at moments not of our choosing. We remember the girl who liked playing piano in high school and died in a car crash in college when we hear someone play showtunes on Youtube. I probably have my grandmother more in mind now than I ever did at any moment she was alive. Her concerns, her approach to things: I see more of it in others nowadays.
“The dead” aren’t collective when allowed to be in the world. There is a way “the dead” can be collective and mindless and harmful, when they dictate the world. Those of you who’ve played Final Fantasy X and X-2 see this unfold slowly, darkly and even powerfully in the plot. The old religion there is a means of control that preserves all the old grudges. The young simply act out the battles of yesteryear although the world has changed totally.
It’s funny a video game has to make that point to us. We’ve got entire political movements based on how other generations, long gone, conceived the issues. Not that they were entirely wrong – they got something essentially right. But we’re preserving some of the hatred, using retro tastes as a mark of how we’re better, bringing “facts” up that are little more than old opinions which were stupid then.
I’ll go back to The Weakerthans to conclude:
De-pluralize our casualties
drown the Generals out in static
We turn and watch our city sprawl
and send us signals in the glow
I’m not worried about doing justice to “the dead” tonight. Everyone who matters did something important and shaped the world well in a way. I’ll encounter, appreciate and remember in life. Their individual lives will speak through life, playing the role I’m working to play now: giving the support and encouragement we need to make something of this.