Over a year ago, my kids and I went to see the new children’s animated movie entitled “Coco” - which is produced by Pixar Films. The visually colorful children’s animation looks into the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos. The story explores the mythology of why we sing songs and remember the dead through an ofrenda - the beautiful altars filled with decorations and pictures of those who have died.
If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Coco”, I won’t spoil it for you by giving you the plot of the story. But I will share with you the big idea around the significance of the act of remembering. The premise of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos is that our loved ones never really leave us so long as we remember them. By telling and re-telling their life’s story, we invite them back into our lives.
There is an ancient Greek word for that - “Anamnesis” - which is when the future and past coalesce and break into the present moment. So in the act of remembering or “anamnesis,” the retelling of stories about our loved ones who have died allows our loved ones to become present in the here and now. In turn this retelling gives new meaning and new life to emptiness and meaninglessness.
Hence, the act of remembering is a sacred act - it is a healing act. Our hearts may be broken, but we fill the open spaces of our broken heart with the healing balm of the memories and sacred stories that we share with each other. That is why we retell our stories: to remember, to reconnect, and embark on a grief journey towards healing.
And so, as illustrated in the movie, “Coco” - may we all travel on our grief journey with the goal of being able to sing again. Perhaps not just sing, but also dance again...even if - as the writer Ann Lammot says - even if we dance with a limp.
May it be so.
Last August, my wife Sylvia and I caught the travel bug. She and I explored Germany, France and the UK for a week. Then she took off to Costa Rica for a two week Spanish immersion course. Then on Christmas day, our family flew out to visit my parents in the Philippines, the country of my birth.
Even though I was born and raised in the tropical islands in the first seventeen years of my life, it was fascinating to see me go through my own a culture shock. After living in the southwest desert for three years (Albuquerque), it was a sight to see the abundance of water. I have lived in the east coast (Virginia) and the west coast (San Francisco bay area), both places close to water, but Philippines’ relationship with water is different. Water seems to gush abundantly everywhere: from the ground through springs, hot springs, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. After being away for 27 years, somehow I have forgotten odd abundance of water in the islands (not to mention the humidity).
As a cultural hybrid, I’ve always been caught in the in-between, deprived of certainty around my cultural identity. My wife was way more astute in noticing the cultural differences during our visit, for instance, the transgression of boundaries between groups of people. Due to their colonial history, Filipinos are experts in cultural hybridity, of constantly being "in-between." It made her feel uncomfortable, but only at first (her blog here). Certainty is thrown out the window, but something new gets revealed, such as discovering a new cultural lens to see the world, or perhaps a new insight.
As someone interested in learning new cultures, I envy millennial vloggers who travel and create documentaries. I hope to do heed Vincent Van Gogh’s invitation to go out into deeper waters, into the Sea-of-Life, to fully live out one’s sacred call towards risk and adventure, and integrate a new perspective.
The late Anthony Bourdain says this sacred invitation well: “If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food, it's a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
Bourdain adds: “Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom... is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
Travelling is a good way to train our brains to learn to cope with the experience of disorientation. It is a humbling experience; it makes us realize that our cultural perspective is just one among many.
Join me in chewing the cud on mindful communication and relationships, self-awareness, spirituality and mythology.