Posts Tagged ‘Lew Gehrig’s Disease’

We are approaching the time of All Saints Day, as well as All Souls Day, Samhain, All Hallows Eve or Halloween, and The Day of the Dead.  All these holidays connect to one another, and all are connected together in my heart, for this year, on November 1, I mark the 17th anniversary of the death of my father.

As my friend Dr. Suzanne Jubenville notes, Samhain “marks the moment when the Wheel of the Year rotates into the dark half of the year.”  This is also harvest time, the beginning of Celtic winter, and the point at which “it is believed that the veil between the visible and the invisible world reaches its thinnest point.”  No wonder that ghost tales developed from such traditions, and no wonder that people often try to communicate with their departed loved ones at this time of year.

Samhain and All Hallows Eve occur on October 31, marking the dying of the old year.  All Saints Day follows, on November 1.  Saints and martyrs are honored by the Christian church on this day, white is worn by liturgical celebrants to mark this holy day.  All Souls Day comes next, on November 2, known by Christians as a day to offer prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, with the wearing of black, white, or purple vestments.  The Day of the Dead runs concurrent with these days, and other traditions mark the time when, centuries ago, people would go from door to door, “Souling” — saying prayers for the dead and asking for contributions to mark a soul being freed from Purgatory.  Typically Soul Cakes (small cakes with cinnamon, cloves, and currants) were given out to those who knocked at the door.

Most of the people (and creatures) honored during the Day of the Dead were not saints — at least, not according to religious law.  They were ordinary loved ones — animals too – who are remembered by their families and celebrated on these days.  It is fitting that at the time when, according to the ancient ways, the veil between life and death is thinnest, we remember these souls.  And I do.

My father, Oscar Weiner, was a very ordinary soul.  The youngest of six children (and probably a change-of-life “accident” for his mother) he was born to Russian immigrant parents who were poor and had come to seek a better life in America.  He worked as button-marker, a haberdasher, a Fuller brush salesman, and later (when he and his family had scraped together enough money to send him to college) a teacher.  After he had acquired an MSW (Master’s in Social Work), he devoted his professional life to working with emotionally disturbed children, holding a particular love for troubled adolescents who had come from rough neighborhoods and poor families.  He saw in them a chance to make their lives better, and sought to help them find an opportunity to become more than perhaps they or their families had imagined.

My father was puckish — always ready to stir up a little debate over something to see how people would react — and wanted not much more than a good hamburger, an easy chair where he could read and smoke his pipe, a back yard where he could cut firewood, and the love of his family.  When he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he insisted that he was not ‘suffering,’ and continued to joke and interact with his friends up to the very end.

Oscar insisted that he was, as Lou Gehrig had said in his famous speech, “the luckiest man in the world.”  He never complained, begrudged his lot, or wished for different than he had received.  His outlook was unfailingly cheerful and upbeat, and, as Robert Fulghum once wrote, he believed “…that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief…” and, most of all, “… that love is stronger than death.”  And for me, this ordinary man was a saint.

As we prepare to celebrate Samhain, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, all these, intertwined, I hold to that common thread I believe all these observances have:  that there are connections that affirm that love endures into and beyond death, and the sure knowledge that only through death can life continue and be reborn, again and again, in many forms.

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