Cheating Death - Thursday, July 26

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 2:59pm -- Rabbi Dan Dorsch

2016_rabbi_dorsch_headshot.pngCall me late to the game, but only yesterday I saw the Disney movie Coco, and I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve been bawling ever since.

The movie Coco takes place on the Mexican ritual of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and tells the story of a boy’s search to discover the identity of his missing long-lost great-grandfather.  However--without revealing any spoilers--I will tell you that the central idea on which the film is premised is how enduring memory is the secret to cheating death.

It seems that well before Jean Paul Sartre and the French existentialist school were writing about our memory being the key to an enduring existence, various cultures also understood expiration of a physical presence as only one kind of death.  In reality, most of us “live” much longer and undergo a second kind of death that occurs only once the memory of us dissipates. The Mexican custom of making food, bringing actual photos of loved ones to the grave--much like lighting a yahrzeit candle, leaving rocks on a grave, or saying Yizkor--are all powerful tools through which we take a moment to perpetuate our loved ones’ existence and prevent their second death.

As we read through the Book of Deuteronomy, I am reminded that Moses lived until 120 years old.  Connected to this near legendary longevity, until this day, we wish each other in Yiddish biz hundert un tzvansik, or in Hebrew, ad meah ve-esrim.  Realistically, I doubt that any one of us has a chance to cheat our first death and live that long.  However, in light of this movie, I have been wondering: might the ancients have understood that with an average life expectancy of 78 (not to mention, in those days, it was far sooner), that a good person in fact have expected to exist potentially another 40-50 years beyond their death?  If not in physical form, than through memory, might we "exist" until 120?

I can’t stop thinking of my mom, whose 61st birthday we would have celebrated two weeks ago.  Coco is now on the list of my all-time tearjerkers alongside Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003).  Our loved ones may not live unto 120, but they certainly may “exist” even longer: if not in actuality, then in our stories, our dreams, and their continued legacy in our lives.

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