From Ancient Greek: κατάβασις, from κατὰ "down" and βαίνω "go."
"For dust you are and to dust you shall return."
As the red-flushed leaves send the smell of their rot from beneath our feet, it seems fitting to celebrate the dead.
I am sitting in the same farmhouse kitchen where, five years ago, I first heard that Bonnie Libby died. She was killed in her sleep by a deep-vein thrombosis—the clot that had formed in her leg during a train trip broke loose, traveled to her brain, blocked a vessel, and burst it.
Bonnie was the first person to trust me as a writer. She was my faculty advisor in undergrad, and she pushed me to edit the literary journal, present at conferences, teach class workshops on meter, and apply to UNC-Greensboro, where she had earned her PhD. "You're a writer and a teacher, and it's a teacher's school, she said."
When she passed, I flung words at God like lances, and I tossed a grenade into the structure of what I'd grown up believing and let it burn as I walked away.
Bonnie's death, and the violence of my reaction to it, forced me to face my demons. I had a lot, but I found that, as I faced and put a name to them, they grew smaller and lost their power, like cockroaches in the light or mold drying up and blowing away. Songwriting became my exorcism.
It hurts, and sometimes it feels like dying. But that's the point. What looks like death is the beginning of a new life. All Hallows' Day is placed right after the fall equinox, when darkness starts crawling earlier and earlier across the earth. You can hear Old Man Winter sharpening his knife and the death rattle of the trees. But it's a time to rest, and it's the beginning of the arc that turns at Christmas, where it reaches up toward Easter. Each of these is preceded by the fasts of Advent and Lent.
Life is a series of little deaths. Each opens the way to a bigger life. We sleep at night, and we can't stay kids forever, and you've seen the old men and women who try to stay 21 their whole lives. Joseph Campbell writes: "The refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative...whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death, a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur."
If you have skeletons in your closet, we all do. But keep them there, and "what you fear will come upon you." Pull them out, lay them in the sun, mourn them, then bury the bones.