Saturday, November 05, 2011

Round Robin Challenge: The Biggest Scare of All

No guard rail and a long way down: Sentinel Peak (A Mountain).

I initially had nothing in particular in mind for the Round Robin Challenge: Scary, beyond a vague idea of trying to show the real and imagined dangers of what I consider the scariest drive in Tucson: the drive up A Mountain, a.k.a. Sentinel Peak. It wasn't until today that I realized what my experiences on that road have in common with the pretend scares of Halloween and my actual terror on the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney's California Adventure. Ultimately, these scares and others are rooted in the scariest scare of all: the primal fear of death.

A burial today at East Lawn Palms cemetery.

What's interesting to me about the fear of death isn't the evolutionary usefulness of it or the ultimate inescapability of this thing we fear, but the elaborate ways we've developed to deal with that fear. The religious among us, for example, cling to the escape clause provided by our particular faith, such as the promise of resurrection or the cycle of reincarnation on the way to Nirvana. Or do I have that last bit wrong? I'm not criticizing this, by the way. We have our reasons. But beyond that, we speculate on what Heaven is like and exactly when and how we get there, and we develop rituals for how the body is disposed of, and we do afterwards to honor the people we've lost and smooth their way into the next world.

Styrofoam gravestones and a fake ghost.
Click the link below for more photos about deathly scares!

Halloween, beyond the party aspect, the fun of pretending to be someone else and the guilty pleasure of eating too much candy, is all about taming the fear of death. We set up tombstones made of Styrofoam, which unlike the real thing can be removed then the celebration is over. We take away the fear of ghostly spirits by depicting ghosts as nothing more than bedsheets with eye holes. We dress up as vampires and wicked witches and fantasy killers such Freddie or Jason, knowing those characters can be safely put in a box in the closet afterward, and everyone will still be alive.

Tucsonans dine with Dia de los Muertos skeletons at El Charro Restaurant.

Here in Tucson, there is a growing annual celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Taking its inspiration from the centuries-old Day of the Dead observances in Mexico, Tucson's All Souls Procession and related events (art shows, concerts etc.) is described in the Phoenix New Times as "a creative and chaotic cornucopia that's equal parts Burning Man, Halloween, and Mardi Gras all rolled into one." The main event is the All Souls Procession, with people in costumes, often carrying icons of deceased relatives, and sometimes even wearing a mask with the loved one's face. I have never made it down to see this, but I'd like to.

An All Souls altar at St. Michael's, containing traditional Dia de Los Muertos icons.

I read somewhere that one purpose of the original Day of the Dead, besides honoring, remembering and praying for the deceased loved ones, is to mock Death itself, not the actual dead people but the idea of death, which is unable to prevent new life beyond this world. Or something. Sounds about right to me, anyway. Day of the Dead decor is full of colorful and generally humorous-looking skulls and skeletons, which can be similar to Danse Macabre imagery in that the skeletons are depicted as being out and about, participating in human activities rather than lying decently in the ground. Children eat candy skulls, and families laugh about that time that Tia Madeleine, before she died, had that funny incident with the family dog (or whatever). Some celebrations are solemn, but many of them are joyful. It's a chance to take our fear of death and laugh at it, and say, "You don't scare me!"

A scary advertisement is all over town.

Of course some of fears associated with death have nothing to do with skeletons or fantasy monsters or an afterlife, and very little to do with a fear of the unknown. Ads like the one above are at bus stops all over Tucson right now. I assume that what Doug McClure (probably not the 1970s tv star) is selling is life insurance, so that at least if you die your family can pay for the funeral, and maybe be a bit less destitute afterward. When I parked to take this photo, two soon-to-be bus passengers offered their take on the subject of death. "We all have to go sometime," an older man said with a shrug. A guy in his thirties had a very different take. He told me that his friend was "dying very slowly," suffering a series of painful conditions that twist his body and subject him to pain. He's had surgeries, and one recent one almost killed him from the anesthesia. The friend told me that the man's stomach was pushed off to the right side of his abdomen and needed surgery, but now the friend was afraid to get it in case he died. Even in those extreme circumstances, the fear of death was a real factor in the man's decision-making.

And on that downer note, let me end this and pass you on to the scary photos of the other Robins!

Linking List
as of Saturday, November 5th
1:35 AM MST

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

May - Posted!
May Rodrigo

Please note: I am helping out at a conference at church in the morning and early afternoon, so I won't be near a computer to update the linking lists or comment on entries. I'll catch up with all this when I get home later in the day. In the meantime, try to have fun without me!


1 comment:

Jama said...

A lot of people find visiting graves is quiet a scary experience especially at night. I find that being in a cemetery has a very calming effect on me, so serene and peaceful. I guess it remind me to evaluate and being thankful of still being alive.