Recently, my daughter Rosie and I went to visit a family member in the intensive care unit after a heart attack. We scurried through the corridors on the way to his room, noting that this hospital was utterly beautiful, with spraying fountains and bright green plants; the staff was cheerful and the walls showcased so much photography and colorful art that it almost felt we were at a museum. Creativity was everywhere!
Once seated in the ICU waiting room, however, the inspiring atmosphere completely changed. Quite close to me, a mother was weeping with her family over the loss of her daughter. The sadness was palpable, so much so that we immediately teared up, as empathic people often do, feeling their hurt instantaneously. After a moment or two, I insisted that Rosie take a walk back by the fountain because I was convinced that their grief would trigger her pain surrounding the recent loss of her best friend.
As I sat alone, musing over this fragile and tentative thing called life, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of connectedness. Even though our family member would survive, having been made new by modern medicine in the form of a triple bypass, we had been on the other end of the gamut just months before when Rosie’s friend Michelle lost her battle with breast cancer. We were the ones crying in the ICU waiting room, hugging and holding one another. Our group felt more connected in the experience of death than in all of our life-based interactions. It was profound. And now, here I sat, witnessing the same kind of intense deep bonding that seems to only occur in death.
It is immediate.
Brotherhood and sisterhood, made by being understood, is all there is.
My graduate and undergraduate studies taught me that the ultimate mission of Creativity is to connect the human race. I now teach Humanities through the Arts, which further confirms to me how the arts produce connections that stretch over time as well as cultures. But the more I think on what connects us, the more I realize that the arts are only one part of Creativity’s mission. Music, poetry, culinary, movies, comedy, theatre, dance, literature, photography, paintings, sculpture and architecture are obvious ambassadors of Creativity. Each genre manages to connect us—through laughter and tears, across eras and ages. But one broker of togetherness, whether we invite it in or not, is death.
Our culture tends to treat death as a taboo subject. We Westerners don’t dwell much on death, but instead are fascinated by all things youthful and new. Other cultures, such as Ghana, however, treat death as a celebratory event, embracing the liberation that only death can bring. It strikes me as odd that we could actually welcome death, but when a positive perspective precedes the occurrence, perhaps it isn’t so taboo.
The “Dias De Los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead” will be upon us in a week or so. I never paid much attention to this Mexican holiday until I saw the emotional children’s CG animated movie, “CoCo,” where I learned that a good amount of ritual follows this elaborate belief system, involving photos, altars, candles, singing and feasts at gravesites. Families are brought together for the sake of honoring the dead, which is another way that death connects the living. Beyond that, the entire family is present and united, whether they’re alive or have passed. Like most Creative acts, this requires our imagination—a grand and intangible power.
Interestingly, when we share our immediate pain at the time of loss or when we share in commemorating those who have passed, we are exercising Creativity, through ritual, love, imagination and the camaraderie of our shared experience.
Death connects us.
Personally, after feeling so acutely close to friends and family during these transitions involving death, I am struck by the many correlations of Creativity—how the “unknown” always warrants our Creative energies via curiosity, imagination, risk and emotion, and how death itself manages to stimulate all of these.
My mom taught me how death can connect us through the stripping away of whatever differences may have separated us during life. Within seconds, we all forgo worldly turmoil and we can disparage no one, nothing. We are left with only our common ground.
When discussing my thoughts with my close friend, Andrea Slominski—PhD candidate in Myth and Archetypal Psychology, she agreed that death just might be the ultimate Creative force. It is the one phenomenon we all fear, that we all must face and that ultimately unites us because it’s where we all end up—together.