Archive for November, 2011

A Pox On You?

November 7, 2011

So this was a bit of a surprise to me – people offering to sell chicken-pox infected (or supposedly infected) items so that other parents can expose their children to the illness and develop immunity early on rather than later in life – and bypass the immunization process.

What’s equally surprising is the vagueness of the article as a whole.  Such practices were “common” as little as 15 years ago or so?  What does “common” mean?  I certainly never heard of such a practice, despite growing up without the vaccine and contracting chicken pox in high school.  If it was common, how is it now equated with a medieval mindset?  
The final quote is the one I find most curious – “vigilante vaccination”.  Taking responsibility for your health is now equated with the illegal assumption of law enforcement powers?  There’s no way I’d pay to have my children lick a lollipop from a total stranger to contract chicken pox, but I certainly am uneasy with equating the expectation that health care decisions can be made (to a certain extent, at least) by non-medical individuals with an illegal practice to be disquieting, at best.

Sweet, Sweet Death

November 2, 2011

When I was a teen-ager, I stumbled upon Ray Bradbury.  I don’t remember how.  I only remember that I fell in love with him.  Or more accurately, with his writing.  It was full of the excitement and beauty of life, the poignant romance and the tragedy that led me to fall for Shakespeare as well.  It echoed much of the secret hopes of late adolescence in a beautiful way, and it (hopefully) impacted my writing stylistically.  

In other words, if my writing annoys you, blame Ray.
One of the things I loved about his writing is that he incorporated exotic locations.  Like Illinois.  And Mexico.  And Ireland.  And Mars.  Growing up in the deserts of Arizona, the faint breezes of these wild and luscious lands was intoxicating.  He was able to capture (or romanticize) the nature of these places, to boil it through the pores of characters in the span of a few short pages so that I came away damp and smelly, as though perhaps I had been there as well – or that perhaps one day I would go there.
One of the images that has stuck from his writings over many years is his description of Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in Mexico.  And in particular, his descriptions of the sugar skulls that the children would eat as part of the festivities honoring the dead.  
I finally got to try one!
I went with my family down to Los Angeles via Amtrak as part of a home-school field trip.  When a big enough group goes, the tickets on the train are only $9 for the round-trip to Union Station and back.  We arrive around 10am and leave around 2:45pm.  That leaves a few hours for lunch and exploration.  Last year we visited the Japanese-American National Museum.  This year we decided to walk to Olvera Street, where settlement dates back to 1781ish.  
The kids were jacked up on excitement from Halloween the day before, and we didn’t realize until we arrived at the plaza that November 1-2 is the traditional date to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos.  We watched dancers and musicians, and as we wandered through the tight corridor of merchant stalls on Olvera Street, we found the sugar skulls.  I quickly bought enough for each of us to sample.
As the kids enjoyed their treat, leaving a drying white ring around their mouths that I think Bradbury described perfectly in one of his short stories 60 years ago, I talked with them about the significance of the day, and how some people believed that they could spend time with the spirits of their dead friends and relatives.  Then we affirmed that what the Bible tells us is that those spirits are not wandering around, hoping for someone to spend time with them – that those who have died believing in Jesus Christ are already in heaven.
It was great to be able to talk about the symbolism of the candied skulls.  We eat death.  And in doing so, we are acknowledging that the seeds of death are in each one of us.  Some day – unless Jesus returns first – we will each die, and the skeleton within us will emerge.  
But at the same time that we acknowledge that we are mortal and each destined for a physical death, we are eating death!  We crunch the candied skull and the taste is not bitter but sweet.  We devour death, because in Jesus we have victory over death – his victory.  We have the assurance that death, while not anything to be romanticized or actively sought after, is not the bitter end that so many people believe it is.  Jesus has conquered death in his resurrection, and therefore we too can celebrate that we have eaten death, rather than death eating us.  And one day, we will have life without death.  
The kids really seemed to latch on to that idea of eating death.  What a beautiful image and symbolism, to in one and the same action acknowledge that we will each die, but to affirm that death is not a final defeat.  In the end, death becomes sweet in Christ, as we find ourselves full of new life.  
Happy Dia de los Muertos!