Paris, France. October 31, 2013.
All Saints Day seems an appropriate day to do that which we do on every visit to Paris. We walk up the streets and climb the stairs to the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur at the top of Montmartre. Here we light a candle and say a prayer for our friends, present and past.
Often we do this in the early evening when the remaining tourists have witnessed the sunset and left, leaving us largely alone. Ours is a different witnessing.
My father hated the news of a friend’s death. It haunted him not only with the loss of someone close, but with the closeness of death itself, taking someone his age but leaving him for another time.
My great-aunt, a wonderful artist who went blind, used to have me read the obituary column to her when I visited her in Pasadena. In her early 90’s when I first visited, she used to read it everyday until she lost her sight. Why, I asked, did she take such interest in the deaths of those she didn’t even know? “Because,” she said, “I’m always delighted to find I’m not among those listed.”
On this trip we carry the final of four packets containing the ash and bone of my dear aunt, my father’s youngest sister, who died just short of her ninety-eighth birthday about a year ago. She wanted to be spread on the water, a duty and honor I undertook. As a fellow lover of travel, she went for a last swim with me in the Galapagos. A close cousin and I waded into the water at Laguna Beach and eased her into the warm waves. My wife Chris and I took her to a smooth beach under a prominent bluff where Wales, one of the sources of our family, projects into the Irish Sea. And today, she slipped from the tip of the Isle de la Cite and into the Seine, to be carried from a rich history to the waters of La Manche and the Atlantic.
Why observe these struggles and death here? Why not everyday? I’m not sure I have a clear answer to that except for tradition and the effect of travel. Travel does these things, in part. The act of travel separates us from those we know, and we think about them more. We have more time to ourselves, less time spent on routine, during which we have time for reflection.
The act of travel separates us from those we know, and we think about them more. We have more time to ourselves, less time spent on routine, during which we have time for reflection.
While traveling I see, hear, smell, taste or somehow sense things I wish I could share with those I know would appreciate the same sensation. I have a moment to appreciate our shared likes of things and, in doing so, appreciate the bonds of friendship.
Each person we consider, for whom we pray, before the candle in the church high on the hill over my favorite city, has touched our lives. They made us better. More tolerant, more understanding, more forgiving, more informed, and more full of life and the love of life. For that, on All Saints Day, we pray for them and for ourselves.