Written by Steven Liechty
"Let the saints be joyful in glory." - Psalm 149
Every year on November 1, All Saints Day, I remember Sacred Heart cemetery in the town I grew up in. It was a huge Polish cemetery situated on a long sloping hill next to a busy intersection and we passed it every day on our way almost everywhere. Normally, like all cemeteries, it gave me the creeps, especially because at the very top of the hill there was an enormous 19th century abandoned orphanage that scared me so much I wouldn’t even look at it. Naturally, I assumed that all the orphans’ parents were buried in the cemetery.
But on the night before November 1, starting at dusk, the entire cemetery would be lit up with thousands of red votive candles. It made it look like the dead were getting ready for a party, like they had turned on all the lights in the house.
I’m sure it seems odd to say the cemetery looked festive, but it really did. On that night, there was nothing "dead" about it. The effect was to confuse the categories of living and dead. It made the dead seem less separated from us, not so different from us. I used to think all those red candles burning all night on the graves must make the dead people happy, or at least cheer them up.
Of course that was what I thought when I was a kid afraid of cemeteries and orphanages. But now I wonder: why not? If death is not the end, then it’s not the end of cheer or even joy. And not theoretical, pie-in-the-sky joy, either. The real thing, the same happiness we know now, the kind that makes us put up Christmas lights. The kind of happiness that makes us wish it could last forever. Every year on All Saints Day, I wonder if it does.
Here’s hoping perpetual light means eternal joy. Amen.
Christina Villa is the Editorial Director of the Stillspeaking Writers' Group.