Juli sneaks up behind me and takes my hand. Her grip is strong as she changes my direction in a 180 turn back up the path. Her three-year-old limbs trample the grass with an elegance reflected in the flowers that adorn the graves we pass. Her mother chuckles and tells her in Tz’utujil to let go of my hand, but Juli just tightens her grip as she giggles and pulls me forward. Her purple traje glistens and glitters with the candles that are lit in the earth.
We pass through trees sprouting forth from the deceased, the smoke of incense filling our lungs. Songs of drunken men with guitars lamenting over loved ones echo off of the maze of stones we carefully navigate through. At the top of the colina, Juli loosens her grip per her mother’s request. Juli stares up at me and puckers her lips – beckoning me to bend down and lend her my cheek for my despedida. I double myself over and she wraps her tiny arms around my head as we kiss each other’s cheeks. I stand back upright to make my way back down the path towards the crowd gathered.
I pass by women adorning sacred dirt with flowers and incense, crosses and candles. Men remove their hats as they lean against epitaphs. Homes for the dead freshly painted in turquoises, pinks, and yellows – an arcoiris of life and death colliding in time.
Vendors pass me, selling hot chocolate to families who will spend the night in the cemetery keeping watch over memories and stories that lift into the twilight and mingle with the smoke from the burning grass. Children play hide-and-seek behind gravestones and set off fireworks on top of piles of earth that cover the dead. Their laughter is a symphony that defies death – it reminds me of the remnants of resurrection that surround us daily…
In the midst of life, we are in death.
As we die daily, we are held. Our stories burn brightly as the sun sets. Our love adorns our lives as roses adorn the grave.
As the sun sinks into Lake Atitlán, the mountainous shadow of volcán San Pedro covers us all on the cemetery hillside. Shrouded in the mystery of death, we breathe in the darkness; our eyes adjusting to the candlelight that illuminates the dead and the living as one.
In the ever fleeting moments of this night, we laugh in defiance as the light conquers the dark. Both worlds colliding in time; we are reminded that that which is unseen is eternal and that valleys of the shadow of death can become illuminated hillsides from which we gaze into what awaits us.