A childish mistake

Gustav Klimt, Death and Life, c.1911.


Death had gnawed, or rather purified, the soul of this relative to the core, to its good and gentle depths.

When I was about six, seven years old, by some contingency I knew the meaning of the word “refined”, but not the meaning of “finished”. So, when I found out about its existence at that age, I thought it meant the same thing as the first, so that the All Souls' holiday came to be for me the “holiday of the deceased dead”, or “holiday of the refined dead”, of those that they had been delicate in life (it was much later that I would learn that the first adjective could also be a variation of the second, but that certainly did not happen in the phrase in question).

And I remember that there were times when, to show how aware I was that the decisive noun had been hidden, as I must vaguely think that this was due to some decorum, economy, or force of habit, I would make the whole structure explicit: “ Are we going to travel on this holiday of the dead, mom?” She seemed admired, perhaps supposing a kind of obstinacy in clarity, which made me repeat the same idea with different signifiers, one with a pleonastic function.

It turns out that at that time, when this and other dates were taken more seriously, many people traveled to pay homage to family members buried in their cities of origin, or they specially reserved the morning, methodically cloudy and cold, or drizzly in São Paulo, for these funeral visits. It was clear how, on the street where I lived, almost everyone was busy with this day. Which made me imagine an unbelievable number of dead people with a history of good manners, finesse, kindness and even kindness, the greatest refinement of all.

I formed some hypotheses: oh, it's because, as they say, “he died, he became a saint”, or no one remembers the rude things they committed when they had energy. Or because, in this condition, everyone becomes harmless, therefore more delicate. They undergo refinement. I knew, for example, that among the graves visited there was that of a relative who had plagued the lives of everyone around him, only bringing them unhappiness and a feeling of defeat; however, I also knew that he had committed acts of great generosity, especially towards strangers. “Deep down, he was a good person”, they concluded every year, after recalling, on the way home, a series of evil deeds. Then my thought took on a new nuance: death had gnawed, or rather purified, the soul of this relative to the core, to its good and gentle depths; That's why they visited him.

I think that for about two years, in the same period, I was still having thoughts of this nature, until I began to come to a collective understanding of the meaning of the date, which became just the day of those who ended, of those who had an end, the same one that we would all have (it was only a very theoretical truth for me, but before I completely ignored it); the day of the purely substantive dead, not qualified or selected, from the mildest to the hardest bones to crack in life. There was a leveling effect, and that took away a certain charm from the thing. It was strange to think that, whatever the person's spiritual nature, he entered a general grave called "dead".

The disillusionment, however, competed in me with the Catholic conception that hierarchizes souls, whose location – whether in hell, purgatory or paradise – indicates the degree of their past virtue. But then why make a pilgrimage to the cemeteries if what was said about the person wasn't there? It must have been, at some point I pondered and calmed down, because there was a biblical promise – in which the children saw more reason for terror than for joy – that all those buried would rise at a tremendous hour, and for that to happen it was necessary care for those remains, even if it were for millennia. Then they would be summoned and returned to flesh, and the remade flesh would pull the soul back to itself. This is at the end of time, that is, when the times would be the new departed.

*Priscila Figueiredo is a professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Matthew (poems) (well i saw you). [https://amzn.to/3tZK60f]

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