I moved to Tucson in 2004, arriving on July first. Unloading the U-Haul the next day I pretty much thought I would die, but by the end of the summer I had fully adjusted to the desert heat and was loving it. It was around the end of that summer that I first heard of The All Souls Procession. Someone told me that it was a huge community celebration of life and of honoring of our beloved dead, and I was immediately intrigued. I had not heard of anything like that happening in the United States before, although I was familiar with the Day Of The Dead celebrations in Mexico. I also heard that the Procession was similar to Dia De Los Muertos, but at the same time different; that is, it was not a Mexican celebration but something open to everyone. I immediately decided I would go, and my best friend wanted to go as well.
I had no idea how large the Procession is. I had not imagined something on the scale that it was, and is. The people, the costumes, the huge puppets, the fire dancers, the little floats and carts decorated so lovingly with flowers and photos and altars, pulled by people who were honoring their dearly departed in this way. The spectacle of it amazed me, the sheer numbers of people participating excited me, the costumes delighted me, and the heartfelt grief and joy, sorrow and celebration that surrounded me made my heart sing.
And then, I saw the Urn.
It was huge, draped in cloth, being pulled through the streets by a group of people who all dressed alike, acted alike, and moved together as one. I was fascinated.
“What is that?”, I asked the nearest person in the Procession.
“The Urn”, the skeleton next to me replied. “You put prayers and letters and other things into it and at the end it will be burned!”
The skeleton moved on, but I could not stand to leave the Urn. There was something drawing me to it, and I turned to my friend and asked her who she thought Those People pulling the Urn were. She, as I, had no idea. I knew right then that I wanted to be one of those people.
Immediately, however, I assumed that I could not. The group was so amazingly cohesive, moving all together and in like costumes and makeup, it was clear that they were a group all to themselves. A professional theater troupe, perhaps, or dance company, or a club. But not a group I could join. Rather, a group of Very Special People.
I told this story one time, and when I related my perceptions of the Spirit Group as the Very Special People, someone said to me, “And then you found out that you were right!” But the reason I am writing this is to say, that is not true. I was not right. And that is the beauty of the Spirit Group, those of us who attend the Urn during Tucson’s famous All Souls Procession.
The following September I responded to an ad I had seen and attended the first informational meeting for the general public concerning the All Souls Procession. This is the meeting at which you can become involved in whatever part of the Procession appeals to you. There, I found out that the group that attends the Urn had appeared for the first time the night I saw them, my first fall in Tucson. And most importantly of all, I discovered that anyone could join that group. Even I.
That fall I attended every meeting of the Spirit Group, and worked hard on my costume, and made friends with the other people who committed themselves to the Procession and especially, of course, with those who attend the Urn. I realized that being an Urn Attendant is a big commitment of time and energy, and it was one I felt happy to make. I became more familiar with how the Procession is organized, why people are dedicated to it, and what an immense devotion of time, energy, money, sacrifice, sweat and caring goes into making this amazing community event every year. My admiration for those who work so hard to make it happen grew.
The night of the Procession that year is one that I will never forget. I will never forget any of them. I have been a member of this group, and have attended the Urn in the Procession every year since then, and for as long as I live in Tucson, I will continue to do so. I think that even if I left this town, I would want to come back to walk with the Urn each November, because it has become so deeply and magnificently a part of my life that I would never want to let it go.
Each year there are moments of the Procession that make my heart lift, that touch me deeply, that bring tears, that bring joy. Each year the impact is a little bit different. The All Souls Procession marks my year and the turning of the seasons in a way that nothing else in the world does.
I want to say a bit more about “specialness”. The All Souls Procession is very special. No where else in the world do they do what we do here. No where else in the world is there the commitment by so many people to create a public ritual such as this, centered on honoring the dead, and honoring all people, all walks of life, all religions, all spiritual paths, all ages, all species. The Tucson All Souls Procession is unique in its splendor and most of all in its all-inclusiveness. It matters not who you are, or where you are from, or what your background or beliefs are. You are welcome to come, to walk, to get involved a little or a lot, or just to watch it go by and feel whatever you feel.
Those of us who participate in creating this each year are not “special”. You don’t need to be “special” to join us in attending the Urn, in walking the Procession, or in joining any of the groups of people who create and present the amazing and beautiful things you will see in the Procession itself, or in the finale performance. Everyone is welcome to join us. All of it is beautiful, but the most beautiful thing of all, to me, is that it is created by ordinary people, just like you and me, who come together to do this thing every year. We are ordinary people, but by coming together in this way, with a common heart and a common goal, we create something absolutely extraordinary. And to me, that is the most beautiful thing of all about the Tucson All Soul’s Procession. Join us.