I have some things to say about ashes—human ashes, the kind I live with. I thought you might be curious. I was. Pio’s ashes came to me in a rectangular stainless steel box that the Comune di Milano considers appropriate for traveling. The box is sealed shut because in Italy it is illegal to spread human ashes. I didn’t bother to find out why. I don’t actually care why. I will just say that it took a mighty amount of determination for me to get into that box. Having him (“him”) sealed in there by somebody who felt is was not alright for him to come out just about drove me nuts.
I got it. It’s a story for another day—but I got it.
And this is what I want to tell you: cremation ashes look like sand. They do not look like wood ashes, and they’re not flakey like that. They’re heavy like sand. I asked my faithful friend Google about it and s/he explained that the only thing left after a person is cremated, are bones. It makes sense. Everything else is water, and turns into steam or smoke, I suppose. The bones are then ground to tiny pieces and called “ashes.” What they really are is sand.
Does that gross you out? I hope not. There’s nothing yucky about ashes–that’s the whole point of them. Does it scare you? Well. These are the things we need to sit with. Starting now, or you can wait until you have no choice. It makes you sad? Good. You’re supposed to be sad about sad things. Sadness is unsettling when it is a stranger, but when it grows to be familiar, not so much.
Where I live, the sand is made mostly of tiny pieces of shells. Some coral. Some stones. How long does it take a shell to become sand after the animal that made it dies? I think that should be a unit for measuring time. The beach is made up of bones.
I sit on the beach and run sand through my fingers. Push my toes into it. Look at the little bones of all of the things that ever lived. Think about how everything together equals una sola cosa. I tell myself it’s ok.
How long does it take for water molecules that rise to the sky from a crematorium in Milan to become a cloud above Costa Rica? I lie in the sand when the wind is whipping and let it pelt me. Get in my ears and bury itself in my hair. Everything that is, is made of everything that was. I tell myself it’s ok.
Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
But you have to find a way to open yourself up wide enough to let it inside you. You’ll suffocate, otherwise. The more you’re afraid or the more you fight, the worse. You have to put your fingers in the ashes and the sand and you have to let all the little bones pour through your fingers. You just do. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Put your ear to the ground, to the sand, and listen to the bones of everything.