In the villages of Transylvania, All Souls’ Day has a very beautiful name: Illumination. If it were up to me, I’d make All Souls’ Day one of the national holidays. On that day, I believe that children can better understand what their homeland is than on Heroes’ Day or on National Day. These abstractions are hard to grasp by tender minds. But don’t many adults actually face abstractions with tender minds?
By Ion Mureşan
Translated by Carmen-Veronica Borbély
Without sounding hollow, you could say during Illumination the homeland is a patch of land that is not indifferent to you. A patch of two-square-foot land that you hold dear and are ashamed of. And that later, you’re afraid of. You hold it dear because you often go to see it and say a prayer across its expanse. You go there often, but only in your thought. You’re ashamed because you don’t walk with your feet, because you lay down flowers in your mind, not with your hand.
But, during Illumination, you leave everything aside and make a small gesture: with flowers and candles in hand, you walk up the path to the cemetery, your children trailing alongside. You take them along and show them the place that is not indifferent to you, so that later they will know without hesitation where it is located. Lest they should get lost, lest their steps should fail to find the way, when they come alone.
After all, it is like walking trees, strange and stunted, like trees on wheels – I’d like to say – that we go to visit our own roots.
The day of Illumination is the day of Their Majesty the Dead. It’s the day of their Highnesses: the great-grandfather and the great-grandmother, the grandfather and the grandmother. It’s the day of His Highness, Father. The day they emerge from the dark side of memory and enter the light of thought and remembrance. There, near the graves, the candle flame turns into a lens. If you look through it, you can see your father’s face. And you can also see your mother’s face. The candle flame is a “hole in the wall of Heaven,” as one poet put it. And there are so many candles in the hills that surely Illumination is the day when the wall of Heaven is riddled with holes. Next to each hole, a dear face is waiting for you to come to the meeting. To come to the prison fence – I would say – for I do not know, and no one knows, who is free and who is imprisoned.
On this day there is a terrible bustle. The streets no longer cope with the lines of cars, hitchhikers make signs desperately on the side of the roads, and a sea of people enter through the gates of cemeteries. All have candles-lenses and flowers in their hands. But no one gets lost. Each arrives at the meeting point without fail. It’s the same beyond, in the world of the dead, on this day. Even there, despite the hustle and bustle, no one gets lost.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been going to these places that are not indifferent to me (on All Souls’ Day the hectares that I have a “Title of Ownership” on and that are listed in the “Land Registry” are more indifferent to me than the two square meters). Over the years, slowly, slowly, the illumined side of the cemetery has shifted. It has migrated. The graves near the village, which forty years ago were watched over by a crowd of people and adorned with flowers and candles, have been engulfed by shadows and by the wilderness. Grass, plum trees and the weeds of oblivion have grown over many of them. Perhaps the names on the crosses have faded or are barely legible in an ID card or a passport in some foreign country. Now the candles bring out from indifference the once deserted territories by the forest. And I think that, slowly, slowly, following the path of the candles, the cemetery in my village will travel around the world and that, one day, maybe a thousand years later, the candles will end up, like the ships of Magellan, exactly where they set off from.
Until then, every year, I put a candle on a few graves that no one comes to. I put a lens through which a soul that no one has come to meet can see the village again.
(From the special edition of TB 86 – „ENJOY TRANSYLVANIA!” – May/June 2019)