It is the day after Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and the day before my birthday. It is one of the darkest days of the year, and a week from now, when American standard time “falls back,” it will seem darker still.
I was born in 1962, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War began to pick up steam. Each decade of my life has been marked by war and conflict, by a struggle between the forces of ruthless global capital, and the push-back from those who valued peace and a more equitable sharing of resources.
In my nearly half a century of life, I have witnessed a sharp decline in the ecological health of this planet. Great flocks of many different types of birds have dwindled to a few sad outliers. Clouds of multi-colored butterflies and swarms of busily working bees have vanished. Delicate native wildflowers in the woods have been overrun by voracious invasive weeds, and the woods themselves have been overrun by a stampede of cookie-cutter tract housing in suburb after ugly suburb.
In my time, cancer has become a terrible epidemic, followed closely by diabetes and heart disease. We humans have been sickened, just like the wild creatures, by the heedless spread of chemical treatments, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, preservatives, additives and so many other toxins in our diet, soil, air and water.
What is there to celebrate on this birthday, the last in my fifth decade?
I look to my ancestors for hope and guidance, as is traditional on the Day of the Dead.
I see my Grandma Fannie, who believed in the power of the word, and practiced it by writing poems and stories that kept the wisdom of her Yiddish forebears alive.
I see my Grandma Mildred, who raised three kids, hosted and entertained her extended family frequently, and worked fulltime for a salary as well, year after year. In her retirement she began the work she loved most of all, volunteering in her local public elementary school helping kids learn to read.
I see the ancestors I claim as kindred spirits, even though we do not share a blood relation: Gloria Anzaldua, who stands there arms akimbo telling me to “put my shit on paper,” no matter what the obstacles; and Audre Lorde, who reminds me constantly that “none of us is free as long as one of us is still shackled.”
As the Scorpio moon wheels overhead and I make my way to bed on my birthday eve, I can celebrate my own place as a link in this chain of strong women who spent their time on Earth trying to make it a better place for those who come after.
This has been a tough half-century, a period of decline and crisis in many ways. It is a dark time. But still the lights continue to shine defiantly: young people gather to Occupy the common ground and revive the dream of social equality; a Monarch butterfly sips a last meal at my butterfly bush before spiraling up to find the trade winds down to Mexico; the sun rises once again.
On this Day of the Dead, life goes on. And while life goes on, we must hope and struggle for our children and their children, and the young creatures all over this planet that are being born today. For their sakes, we must continue to work for a better future, and insist on our right to dream, and to make our dreams manifest.
This is my birthday mantra: hope, struggle, dream, persist, hope, struggle, dream, persist, endure. And again.