The season of death

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God!" screamed my wife Jen as we drove on Greenwood Avenue North toward the hilly intersection of North 90th Street.

Sitting in the backseat, I looked away from my infant son Kyler in his carseat and refocused out the windshield toward a small streak of red taillight zipping in front of us. One second passed that felt like 10 minutes. From the opposite lane came the booming thud of molded plastic being crushed mixed with the tinkling of shattering headlights.

Another 10-minute second dragged by when I shifted my gaze to the passenger window: the helmeted rider flew in a sideways dive several feet off the blacktop, his crushed scooter grinding and spinning beneath him.

Jen hit the brakes while a panicked rush of adrenaline hit my bloodstream. I thought we had just watched someone die. The man and machine stopped in a heap about 20 feet from where the car t-boned the scooter as it sped downhill.

Looking out the back window I watched the rider lurch to a kneeling posture with his right arm that seemed limp from the fall.

"He's alive!" I blurted out to Jen.

"We've got to see if he's okay," she replied before turning the car and parking on the down slope of North 90th Street.

Jen ran around the corner to check on the rider, and the driver who struck him. I pulled our slightly bewildered son from his carseat, stood in the cool October night air and held him tight.

When Jen returned to us, she said the rider's helmet was cracked and his mouth and chin oozed blood as people helped him onto the sidewalk to wait for an ambulance. I'm sure his helmet, heavy pants and thick coat spared him from a worse fate. Both men were in shock, and, to a lesser degree, I suppose we were, too.

As I held Kyler's warm little body and my fight-or-flight response faded, a new sensation rushed over me. Graphically witnessing the nearness of death washed my heart with a flood of gratitude for my life and family.

The next day at work I noticed the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) figurines a friend picked up in Mexico perched on top of his computer. They've been sitting there for months, but this time the four small skeletons wearing brightly-colored wedding attire made me pause.

Just like the scooter accident, the morbid but happy little scene reminded me of the intimate relationship life has with death. The two are an inseparable couple enhancing and strengthening each other. Looking at the figurines made me realize that watching terrible events unfold is not the only way to contemplate the marriage of death and life.

For nearly 3,000 years the people of Mesoamerica, from the ancient Aztecs to the modern Mexicans, have been embracing the cycles of death and rebirth every autumn with their evolving Dia de los Muertos festivities. In our age, the holiday lasts from Halloween until Nov. 2 and features rainbow-hued sugar-skulls, ofrendas like my friend's wedding scene, parades and, most importantly, families decorating the graves of their loved ones.

While sudden tragedy teaches a grim lesson about the precious nature of life, it's not the only instructor. With a light-hearted and joyful intent, Dia de los Muertos shows us how to embrace life's preciousness by honoring our deceased loved ones with a great party. I'll take that over a car accident any day.

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