What we see as Nomads: Roadside Shrines In Mexico

I grew up with a ghost in the house. Matter of fact, I’m named after him. He was my biological father who died a few months before I was born.
As a way of transcending her devastation, my mother often spoke of him as if he were right there in the living room with us. Sometimes she would even include him in the conversation. Stephen, what do you think, should I hang Stevie’s school picture on the wall or keep it on the desk? He’d usually respond with a tug at the heart in one direction or the other. When my mother remarried and I got a real live dad, we started referring to my dead one as Daddy Stephen. When she and Daddy Doug (whose name was later shortened to plain Dad) gave birth to my sister, we stretched my phantom father’s paternity to her as well. After all, it wouldn’t have been fair if I had two dads, and she only had one.

To this day, my sister and I both appreciate having an extra spirit dad hovering above- one who never gets mad, is always sympathetic, and can be by our side in a pinch when we’re scared. It’s like having a Jesus without the other followers.
I’m very grateful that my mother raised us amidst my father’s presence. I believe that as mortals we need more than to just remember the dead; we need to foster a relationship with their spirit as well. By doing so, we are allowing them to still care for us in our daily lives. I don’t necessarily mean that they help us wash the dishes or pick the winning lottery numbers; their influence is more internal.  By embracing what is timeless, expansive, and untouchable in them, we celebrate our own boundless perfection. Likewise, by honoring their state of death, we acknowledge the fragility and temporality of our own life.
It’s for this reason that I love roadside shrines. And, lucky for me, they are all over Mexico. Their prevalence speaks to a couple realities, not the least of which is how dangerous it is to drive here.  Whenever we see a little family of crosses on the side of the road, we know to slow down- literally and figuratively. The next thing that always comes to mind is how happy it makes me that Mexicans care so well for their dead. They build them the most elaborate shrines and visit them often. I can just picture the happy ghosts hanging out on the side of the road, sipping tequila in their little casitas complete with painted trim, Christmas tinsel, photographs, flowers, candles, and crosses. Even in the most remote areas, we’ve yet to see one shrine that’s rundown or neglected.  I deeply admire that level of dedication.
Lastly, I like the shrines because they humble me. If ever I feel different from my fellows, I take a second to remember that we are all going to be dead people one day. One of my favorite metaphors for life and death is that temporarily we are all little droplets of a waterfall descending in a cascade with other droplets, but at the end of the journey, each and everyone of us returns to the same river.   
I know, I know, this view isn’t consistent with the happy ghost one, but somehow, to me, it all makes sense- STEVIE

Comments

  1. those little houses they build for dead people are crazy sometimes. They are full on little pads. Tom

  2. very sweet Stevie, I remember growing up with your ghost dad too, his presence was most there with us! He must of got a kick out of our games and maybe he even provoked us, just a little.

  3. Remember when we used to turn the TV to a static station and then sit there for hours trying to see letters form, one by one like with a ouija board, until we decoded our message from Daddy Stephen. So funny.

  4. Alexis Schulman says:

    Yep Daddy Stephen was always around us 🙂 still is.

  5. Great story, great insights. Thanks!

  6. mmmmmmm what delicious morsels you post for all of us to sup on. more more more please. you made me cry! (which is much more difficult these days, thank goodness).

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