JAMES BEHRENS: All Saints Day, All Souls Day allows us to contemplate life and death

There are two holy days in early November. In a sense, they sum up the feast that is given us every day of our lives. They say big things about where we are going and where we come from.

All Saints Day is celebrated on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day arrives the day after. Halloween, which closes the month of October, might be said to be a blend of the days that immediately follow.

Different cultures celebrated the living and the dead by dressing up as saints, sinners and everyone in between, and took to the streets in parades, religious rituals, processions and the like.

Humans across all cultures need to express a kinship with the high and the lowly among us. We emulate the saints and revel with the sinners. Both activities promise good and celebratory times.

These days, both holy days, have been largely reduced to religious confines. Within the borders of a church, saints and the dead are remembered. That includes just about everybody everywhere within and beyond the borders of time and place.

I was at my sister's not long ago. Mary lives in Atlanta. Her granddaughter, a cute red-haired girl named Emily, was there with her brothers. Emily is 4 years old.

Mary keeps an arsenal of toys and costumes in her house for when the grandchildren visit. Emily rummaged through the big box and found a veil and tiara. She put them on and went through the house, smiling as if she had discovered a heap of diamonds.

The tiara and veil did not quite match her dress and shoes, but that obviously did not matter to her. She had found something special, something beautiful, something that sparkled -- something that she could wear.

She asked me if I liked it. I told her she looked beautiful, looked just like a princess from a magic kingdom. She gushed with pleasure. And then moved on, asking the same question of almost everyone in the house, and getting much the same answer. Boundless pleasure there.

Emily is so young. She has no idea where she comes from, in the sense that her young life is a gift from so many who have lived, loved and gone before her. As she grows older, she will learn more about how connected we all are to the present, past and future. A human being -- a little girl -- is the living expression of what an entire race has been given, what an entire race strives to give back through love.

God has given us the gift of making history and passing it on to others. History not only lives within us. We pass it on with all that we are and all that we do. Life is an ongoing parade of gift receiving and giving. And we rejoice in it.

Even the smallest among us know that there is a time and a place for doing something special, for rummaging through a secret place and finding a crown and royal clothing.

Emily will grow and grow. Hopefully she will mature to the point where she will love like big people, and maybe have children of her own, children who will dress like princes and princesses and ask her if they are liked, if they are loved. They, too, will move on.

There will come a time when Emily will know the pain of loss. Those who gave her life on this Earth will pass on. They will do so having given a little girl and a grown woman the best that human hearts can give. It is what God is and does through us.

But there will be days like All Saints and All Souls when Emily can join the human family and contemplate this mystery through which we are living. There is no death, only back-to-back parades of people, some far, some close, some maybe even wearing tiaras and veils, with mismatched clothing.

We do the best with all we are and all we have. And so does God, a God who must love parades.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.