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November 01, 2002
All Saints

There was no Halloween in Poland. We did neither trick nor treat. The day that was a serious celebration though was today, All Saints. I know that all of my family who are still in Poland spent the evening at my grandparents’ graves. There were new flowers, there were many candles and there was this incredible warmth and fragrance in the air, each family brought flowers and candles to the graves of their loved ones. Those who’s relatives were too far away, or who’s graves had been replaced by newer ones flocked to the one quite large altar in the middle of the cemetery to their candles. November 1, Wszystkich Swietych was as if the stars had come down to join the celebrations of the ancestors. It was also as if the families were truly reunited. The ones who had found rest in the graves were there, their presence quiet but real.
On the edge of the cemetery were the graves of the Roma and Sinty families. They also celebrated with their ancestors. They would pour vodka over the graves and then have some drinks themselves. A real post mortal celebration for those long gone.
There are no cemeteries in Manhattan, or at least not ones where candles would be lit tonight, so the closest thing for me to celebrating this family holiday away from home today was to go to the next church. The church on Amsterdam and 96th street happens to be a Roman Catholic church. It is actually a church that belongs to the Franciscan Monastery on that block. I went after sundown, just to see if anybody was ing any candles. And yes, there were people there, quite a number of people actually, standing by tables and tables with lit candles. My relatives are in Poland and theirs were probably somewhere in Middle or South America, but the feeling was somehow the same. It all felt right, following the same tradition. I wanted to five candles. One for each person to who’s grave I would have liked to traveled tonight. I was ready to the candles, it only seemed as if all candles were in use by other families already. No new ones in sight. It took me maybe 2 minutes to get some very similar looking candles at the deli on Amsterdam and 95th. I got some matches too. I placed my candles next to the other ones and it felt a little bit like Poland on November 1st. It felt a little bit like the getting together with the entire family. The family here was a sly different one, I had the feeling that I was not the only one in this church who was not able to travel to the graves of loved ones. Nobody spoke. Some people cried.
As I was leaving the church into the rainy November evening, there were more people streaming in to attend the mass. I noticed a sign that warned that it was prohibited to place any candles that had not been bought in the authorized store inside of the church. I was not really worried. It is not about the candles really. It is more about the ability to somehow realize mortality and how it unites us all into a global family. I know this sounds so sugar coated and not truthful. Each one of us carries within a little flame of something good. Just as each one of us was born, each one of us will die, but we will never really leave.


(pours some vodka)

Posted by: em!ly on November 2, 2002 12:18 AM

ps: there's one downtown...it's tiny but it's there.

Posted by: on November 2, 2002 12:19 AM

There are several cemeteries in Manhattan actually. There is one right by the former World Trade Center Site, there is one a block away from Wallstreet, (I think Hamilton’s grave is there), I also know of one on 21st street. As far as I remember the city hall site used to be a cemetery for African Americans. I actually somehow have the feeling that much of Manhattan might be a so called “holy ground”.
The post really seems to focus on Catholicism, probably because if the holiday celebrated. I think that every religion somehow has a certain awareness of the ancestors built in, so this experience of a larger family and belonging is a more universal thought. I don’t think I can consider myself Catholic anyway.

Posted by: Witold on November 2, 2002 06:30 AM
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