(The art and function of public mourning)
Something that my mom and I have in common is a fondness for cemeteries. We love to walk around those somber parks with their intriguing sculptures that peek from behind flowers and trees. We can practically hear the whispered stories as we walk among the etched tombstones.
Some people think our graveyard affinity is odd, but I think it’s strange not to appreciate the beauty of art and nature joined together in an expression of grief, love and longing.
It is not just a visual beauty, but an energetic one as well. Whether the people within a particular cemetery are family or strangers to us – there is an aura of universal love that can be felt wherever souls gather together to mourn. I know because I feel it in cemeteries. It opens my heart in a way that allows me to easily enter into the flow of love that exists all around us.
(Where have you felt most connected to other souls? What opportunities do you take to experience that feeling?)
I am thinking about this now because I live about 25 minutes away from Prince’s Paisley Park. Yesterday, I joined the throngs of people who are congregating outdoors and creating an art installation that expresses their sadness, nostalgia and love of music.
The fence outside Paisley Park has been transformed into a massive menagerie of drawings, dream catchers, jewelry, balloons, carvings, flowers, candles, photos and guitars.
It is community art that exists only to express love and appreciation. It is beautiful.
I had to see it up close to appreciate its beauty, to notice details like the personal notes peeking from behind interesting objects. I had to experience the somber, respectful and loving tone of the people creating this spontaneous masterpiece.
Gathering in communities to create a temporary work of art while mourning the dead is a universal tradition with ancient roots. My mom’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Poland, where elaborate Day of the Dead events are celebrated in cemeteries. This tradition is thought to stem from pre-Christian Slavic customs. Most countries around the world have eerily similar rituals of gathering together outdoors with flowers, candles and other beautiful objects to honor the dead.
Outside Paisley Park, the gathered community was racially diverse and many of the people were from my generation. It was clear that back in the day, in our separate communities, we came of age to the same music, danced to the same songs, sang the same lyrics. Now here we were thirty years later, gathering to pay our respects to the soul who created our shared experience. We were connecting to each other.
If I lived more than half an hour away, I never would have come.
But it so happened that Prince lived and died very close to my home and I found myself participating in a public ritual that has roots as deep as the most ancient family tree. I had the opportunity to absorb the visual and energetic beauty of a community of strangers creating art together while listening to the whispers of a departed soul. It was a special Day of the Dead that connected me to my generation and to all the people who came before and afterwards.
It was similar to my cemetery experiences except I was sharing my feelings with a community and the art was being created there in the moment.
Living a Spirit Full life involves taking opportunities to feel connected to others, to our roots, to creation and to the Mystery surrounding us. It means stepping outside of our routines and to-do lists and making the time to honor the universality of our feelings and our experiences. For me this weekend, it was the art, music, nostalgia and tears of Paisley Park. For you, it will be something completely different.
The important thing is that when you have an opportunity to tap into the love, longing and hope of your fellow humans – you take it!
Our ancestors – and Prince – would want us to.