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  • John Chambers, PhD

The Day of the Dead; Remembrance of Acquaintance

Dia de los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead.

We arrive there after Halloween blows out its candle at midnight, after we shuddered in fear and faced monsters of our imagination.

On November 1, fear turns to reverent celebration, the Mexican custom, with roots in Aztec history.

Fear is overcome through remembrance.

There’s something unapologetically beautiful in the parades and the gatherings that showcase walking skeletons, or masks and makeup that turn mortal faces into skulls. We strip death of the sting by conjuring happier feelings and memories.

Toward those departed loved ones, we send a metaphysical calling – you are still here, in our memory, and you still have a home.

That calling can be easily spread to others, whom we may not have known so intimately.

Years ago, I listened to a discussion on work/life balance. (It’s a shame that someone ever had to distinguish between work and life, as though such a large part of our existence was a repulsive toil.) But recalling the speaker, we in the audience were asked, who would be with us in the end?

When sickness or age has left us shells of our once-vibrant minds and bodies, who would be at our bedside?

Who would be calling the house to ask about us?

The speaker reminded us of what we knew -- it shall be our partner, or family members, or best friend, or our children, or soul mates. In more horrifying scenarios, it would be parents, soon to be wracked with eternal pain over the loss of a child.

We recognize it clearly. At the end of our days, those by our side will be those we love, not those who were next to us in a cube or a corporate office or business car.

Of course at work, life’s journey presents us with many faces. Like a professional baseball team, we play hard and with camaraderie, but then the faces move on, get traded, find new teams, retire... A family member or best friend or loved one will always be on our baseball diamond and playing field, and we will see that person constantly – a person who is a profound part of who we are.

Nevertheless, those teammates who move on, also having loved ones of their own, are part of our own journeys.

And although there is separation between the office and the home, those teammates also had a hand in making us who we are. Whether a colleague in a cube or on a webcast, or a customer you served regularly, or a leader who helped mentor you, they all leave bits and pieces of wisdom and guidance, like sugar skulls of candy in the Mexican tradition.

Those colleagues by your side, sitting in meetings, asking you a question, laughing over an error or mistake, bequeathed you spirits of influence and innovation. Some encounters were awful, and some colleagues were jerks! So we set them aside. For most, however, those associations touched you or helped you.

On the Day of the Dead we see families reflecting and praying. The glorious parades and gatherings highlight our own mortality. Emotions are stirred, some very painful, so we champion the memories of those departed.

We elevate them as heroes. And they are heroes.

I began thinking of those who were quick pit stops on my journey, not family, not even “friends,” some who are now gone, taken by untimely deaths.

How did they help shape who I am?

Did I know anything of their dreams?

Did I repeat something they said within my own circles or within my own dealings?

Were those words and thoughts valued by me, carried by me in my mind's pocket?

Weren’t their perceptions helpful to me?

Do I remember their kindness?

They were heroic, perhaps without my knowing it.

I recall an Outer Limits episode entitled “The Voyage Home” (1995), where an astronaut thwarts a malevolent alien invasion by taking his own life, along with the alien force. Not a unique theme, but the closing narration certainly was:

“The true measure of a hero is when a man lays down his life…with the knowledge that those he saves... will never know.”

On this Halloween Eve, I don’t want to equate interplanetary fiction with a somber reflection of departed souls. Yet in a far less extreme sense, that statement was remarkable.

We are successful thanks to those who helped us, yet we may never know.

We don’t consciously recognize influences that, in weeks or months or years to come, might have enormous impact on our future.

For all we know, our paradigms and voyages and dreams were saved, by something that seemed so trivial at one time -- from someone we don't remember, or perhaps from someone we may not have even met!

Some of our fellow employees are now gone.

Office mates and workday colleagues who passed on, who once enriched us, are fading images from meetings long ago. Like blurry shadows in old company hallways, they are in danger of being forgotten by us, as we moved on.

They had families and best friends of their own.

So we would never have been by their bedside “at the end.” They were just infrequent encounters in our lives, just “work place” employees….

Yet their own candles of existence, and brief acquaintance, helped light our way.


Feliz Día de los Muertos.


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