Tonight, the Marigold Project’s Festival of Altars was rendered virtual, a gorgeous ritual made both accessible and distant by the coronavirus. I watched and listened, cried and smiled, had chills and connected with the universality of love and loss.
I asked James to get the jar of spiced hot chocolate down from the pantry. I brought my grandmother’s jack-o’-lantern near for the festivities. I cuddled both alternately, hearing poetry and letting dance and art shake dust off of my soul as the thin veil flapped in the breeze to blow it away completely.
In years past, tonight would have been an outdoor gathering, a soulful march through the Mission accompanied by our own renditions of second lines, visions of glamorous catarinas floating down the city streets. The procession would drift to Garfield Park, to an assemblage of altars amid a neighborhood of doorstep ofrendas and so many remembrances of loved ones held dear.
Tonight, the park is closed. The remembrances now include the ritual itself, present but changed by this moment of viral compression, the altars private but certainly plentiful in a year where the Mission was an early hotspot of COVID tragedies. Multigenerational households full of essential workers felt the impossibility of escaping from this pernicious plague.
In the midst of this, the acknowledgement of police brutality and anti-black, anti-trans violence remained focal points in the Festival of Altars. The earth was honored, and holding us to account. We are invited to contemplate not only our ancestors, but our shadows, too. How will our understanding of ourselves spur us to cultivate peace and well-being for those alive right now? How will balance be brought where things feel most lopsided?
I abstained from intoxicants, sat sober through the ceremony as is asked of us the night of the procession. Somber and savoring the depth of emotion. The moon is still heavy with fullness, and the days have an autumnal range that awakens me to shifting into winter itself in short order. Offerings of food, good medicines I also grow on the occupied territory I inhabit, laid beautifully before artistic elaborations on elemental strength.
As the credits rolled, I felt grateful. The doorbell rang, and a grocery delivery arrived, resplendent with an edible bouquet of flowers and herbs, including marvelous marigolds. Marigolds were some of the first things I ever succeeded in growing from seed as a child; I’ve been meaning to plant more, and inhaling their particular scent fringed in mint and verbena made me ready to sow at first light.
We all need rituals. Wonderfully, life in San Francisco has given me the unexpected gift of participating in some small way in this one. I lit a candle, put my herbaceous blossoms into water, and perfected the inadvertent altars in my dining room. The piano, once my grandfather’s, then my grandmother’s, then my uncle’s, and now in my home, has really become a kind of altar. I tidied and talked to my spirit kin, eventually eating some pumpkin cookies and sipping smoky mezcal.
The marigolds arrived right on time, replacing the glorious amaranth that had been center stage on the dining table. The Jericho Rose finally got some water and began its magical unfurling. The corn and dried wedding flowers held down their spiritual places. I made a cup of soothing tea from the spare leaves of my bouquet. I played music that has become an annual winter ritual, because it is powerful and descriptive of these shifting seasonal energies. The magic of nourishment, life and renewal took over.
Tomorrow is a big day. This has been a year of survival. The stakes are high, and so are emotions. The veil is thin, but so too is our national patience. Souls hover around the decisions of the day, and we all must brace for what comes next.
Tonight, though, I journeyed through the contours of what came before. I held my grief and my hope simultaneously. Just now, I feel fulfilled in the higher callings of human being. I’m trying to live my life as essential poetry in an animal dance; I think it just might work.