Whether you celebrate Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead, this coming weekend is a time when we acknowledge the presence of wraiths of those who have gone before us. For many of us, the day has become another holiday for parties and decorations, while the importance of remembering those who who have lived on this earth and bringing them into our lives in some way has been lost.
For millennia, women have cared for and mourned those who have left this life and it was a sacred and honored duty. Yet, at the same time, so many women of the past and present have themselves been forgotten at the time of their own passing. Their lives were never memorialized with statues or street names, their stories never written down in official histories of our towns or nation. Even today, so many women live and die without recognition of their accomplishments or their delightful spirits.
I have been thinking about how I can make this holiday meaningful, a day to truly honor those who have walked on this Earth before me, or walked with me but left it before me. I began to think of all the women throughout time whose courage, compassion, wit and sense of humor, charm, talent, and so much else were never memorialized or who I never heard of, but wish I had.
I think that, over the next few days, I will make a point of remembering those women, of creating a circle of celebration of their lives and all that they did that left a legacy. So much of who we are comes from women from long ago and far away, but who we never recognize or thank. For example, one reason I am a writer today is that one of my grandmothers loved poetry and wrote poems for her friends and family. My other grandmother went to college, even though it took her decades to finish. They influenced me, but who influenced them? Perhaps their interest in poetry and education was ignited by other women – teachers or family members – whose names I will never know but who have made my life better nevertheless.
If I were to honor all those women whose lives transformed mine in some way they would number in the thousands, most likely, but I have chosen two to think about over this next week. One is the unnamed woman who was the first keeper of the house I live in. She, or some other woman who lived here, was responsible for making my house homey – for intricately-painted doors on what was her kitchen or pantry and what is my laundry room, for handy hooks all over the house, for keeping my house clean and repaired so that it would still stand 150 years later when I chose to live in it.
The second woman I will think about died in the Rwandan genocide. On my study cabinet is a red and white basket that was handwoven by a woman survivor of the genocide. She is part of a group of basketmakers who come from both sides of the conflict and have joined forces both to provide themselves and their communities with basic necessities of life as well as to show that peace can be woven as well as fibers. I will visualize and memorialize one woman from the genocide who did not survive to weave baskets, but who was a friend or family member of the woman who made my basket and who may have inspired her to put aside her anger and forgive, to have enough faith in the future to weave baskets even after the horrors of her past. Perhaps because of her, I myself am inspired to keep dreaming of a future where genocide is unthinkable and peace is commonplace whenever I look at the basket.
Remembering women who have died brings my own place in this world into focus. Suddenly, I am part of a long line of women stretching across millennia and the globe. They are a part of me, just as I will be part of the lives of women I will never know, generations beyond me. Giving honor to these women whose names I do not know brings them to their rightful and sacred place in our minds and hearts. It should be our duty to remember them.
At the same time, if we each remembered women who have recently died but, like the woman from Rwanda, should not have, we create a witnessing that could possibly help prevent further deaths. So much violence occurs because the perpetrators think no one is watching, that no one will remember their victims and, therefore, that they will never be held accountable. If, on this day, we each told stories, to each other, in publications, on the internet, of women who this world has lost in the past year who should still be with us, how powerful would that be?
This weekend, I will remember those two women, maybe by lighting a candle, maybe by singing a little mantra to bring blessings on them, maybe by simply taking some time out of my days to think about them. I invite you to memorialize one or two women who need to be remembered and join me.