“Celebrate we will for life is short but sweet for certain”
– Dave Mathews Band
It’s 5:00 in the morning and there’s a parade going on outside my window. Seriously. Trumpets. Drums. Sounds of glee, glory and organized exuberance are rocketing off my bedroom window. What in the world is going on? This is not Times Square – this is Vietnam, not exactly the land of the crazy. To emphasize my point, I have a Vietnamese friend (mind you who is in her late 20’s) who is locked out of the house if she’s not home by ten because the family she lives with will simply not be disturbed past that daunting hour.
My first thought when I heard the music? Oh my goodness – I’ve done it. I’ve actually eaten enough chocolate that I’m starting to hallucinate! I know this sounds like a strange conclusion to come to, but a college friend once told me that eating chocolate before bed makes you have strange dreams and I thought that maybe I had actually pushed the consumption to the extremes. So after pinching myself, double checking the time on my phone, and listening intently to the organized chaos marching past my window, I came to the realization that yes, there actually was a parade proceeding along Cao Thang Street. I calmly waited for it to move on before shrugging, telling myself once again that Vietnam really is a strange place (I usually do this once a day) and then swiftly passed out.
When I tried to astonish my coworkers the next day with tales of my disturbed slumber (all who have been living in Vietnam for several years), they all nonchalantly nodded and said, “Oh, that’s just a funeral.”
My response? “They mourn their dead by having a parade?”
“Well, the party doesn’t really get going until 1 or 2 in the morning so the parade doesn’t usually happen till dawn.”
. . . “The party?”
“Well the Vietnamese want to make sure that the deceased person’s last night on this earth is their greatest yet. So they throw them a party.”
Despite my misgivings about the 5 AM wakeup call on a Friday morning, this philosophy towards life and loved ones is truly inspiring. I can only hope that when my time comes, those around me will want to celebrate a life lived well rather than mourn an empty one that was left unfulfilled. We wear black, it seems, as a way to ensure an oppressive and dark environment. How dare you laugh at someone’s teenage mishaps (we all have them – I will never live down stealing wine from my parents wine cellar though I think we can all laugh about that now? Right Mom?) or honor their integrity with pride instead of regretting its absence? Death is one of the few absolute guarantees we have about the future, so why is it that we are all so afraid of it?
Dare to throw a party, dare to dance, and dare to honor the dead in the way that they would want to be honored . . . by making those loved ones around them happy.
Perhaps just save the marching and the trombones for a more convenient hour of the day . . .