Creepy

If I had to pick a favorite month, November would be my choice. Fall is my favorite season, and late fall is my favorite time. After the bright and blustery days of October, November descends as a kind of muted gloom. Many trees have lost their leaves, and in places the ground below is more colorful than the branches above. Early autumn draws the eye upward toward changing foliage, and in late fall we look down toward earth again.

Skeleton with pet cat

November is dying time. Leaning deep toward winter, trees suck their juices into their roots, leaving their leaves to wither and branches to dry. November is when nature closes up shop, putting a sudden stop to the fervent fecundity of summer. When Herman Melville wanted to describe the morbid urge that sent Ishmael to sea, he described the damp, drizzly November of his soul. All rivers wend toward an ocean end, and Christians remind themselves of this with a pair of November holidays that commemorate the dead: All Saints Day yesterday, and All Souls Day today.

Mr. October

During the month of October, our religiously diverse neighborhood goes all out decorating for Halloween: Christmas lights are rare here, but in October there are plenty of ghouls and skeletons hanging around. The inevitability of death, it turns out, is something that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and certainly Buddhists can agree upon. Whatever the shade of your skin or the posture of your prayer, in the end our bones will all molder the same.

Just a skeleton on a porch with his dog

Earlier this week while listening to news coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I heard how community members have spent shifts at the coroner’s office, praying with the deceased rather than leaving them there alone. I’m not Jewish, but I my immediate response to this story was recognition: yes, of course we need to keep company with the dead, praying however we are accustomed. And with that thought, I began to weep, not only for the named ones who died in Pittsburgh but for any and all who have died alone, too soon, or with unfinished business: the only kind of soul, legend tells us, in danger of becoming a ghost.

Three pumpkins

Buddhists have no illusions about the afterlife: I’m comforted by the bright blankets of November because I recognize that as the leaves and seasons pass, so too are we each destined to die. In November, all souls sit with the dying landscape, keeping her company as she passes from one season to the next. At this time of year and during this week of senseless slaughter, I’m reminded of a line from the Dhammapada: All beings tremble before their death. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?