Day of the Dead, November 2, 2012

photo by Javier Pinzon

It was a magnificent warm evening in SF’s Mission district as we gathered in the Day of the Dead celebration to pay tribute to those who have gone before us, our ancestors . Earlier this year I had met Francisco X. Alarcon and Javier Pinzon at a visiting writers’ program at the Merced Community College in Los Banos, California (set up by Meg Withers). Francisco and I collaborated on calling in the directions, he with beautiful words and me with the sound of the didgeridoo. Everyone seemed to respond so well to the didge and Francisco said, “The ancestors are riding on that sound!” In his enthusiasm he invited me to join him as he called in the directions at the Day of the Dead this year.

After a critical mass of people arrived, we set up in front of a beautiful altar on wheels and amidst Aztec dancers with long feather headdresses. Peggy Ho held the didge and the microphone for me and we proceeded to call in the directions. Each time it was my turn to play, a very loud drummer started pounding on the drum and I couldn’t hear anything that I was playing. I assumed no one else could hear it either but that wasn’t so as the microphone was picking it up. I would have stopped playing altogether in frustration if Javier (I think it was Javier) hadn’t said, after each song, “Beautiful, beautiful.”

The dancing was magnificent. People in the procession dressed in so many different ways to honor the dead. I love this tradition that western culture does not really have, to remember, honor and appreciate those who have gone before us. It is also a way of honoring the cycle of life and death and maybe calming some of that fear of death that is so strong in western culture. It was truly a celebration as the procession wove around through the Mission, adding people as it went. It was one of those magical San Francisco evenings where people got along and the energy was collaborative and celebratory.

I felt privileged to be a part of it.