Block Island can be a place of extremes. Only one hour by boat from the Rhode Island mainland, it can feel isolated and wild, before the summer hordes begin to swarm. Today, the rain and the wind conspire to whip the sea into an angry dance, whereas only yesterday, the island was a sun drenched, warm respite where the long stretches of beach and craggy cliffs left no room for unwelcome thoughts. It is a place of great natural beauty and it has a unique serenity which is what prompted me to disperse Linda’s ashes here only two years ago.
While sitting on the rocks yesterday in my favorite beach chair, wrapped in a blanket to ward off the chill of early spring, I watched as a family brought their own box of ashes to disperse into the Atlantic. They gathered into a solemn cluster, when the oldest woman in the family, who I am guessing was holding her husband’s ashes, tearfully set them free into a swirling eddy where they gently rolled with the tide until they were gone. I was deeply moved by the act as a ritual and the emotional investment each family member had in it.
I asked myself, “why here?” Why do we so often offer the ashes of our loved ones to the sea, and it felt like the sea itself offered up the answer. The vast ocean is the most tangible metaphor we have for the Great Mystery that frightens us, welcomes us and even beckons us, all at the same time. It is in this mystery, where we lose ourselves and become a part of something that is infinitely bigger than us. In fact we fill its spaces until we ultimately merge with it. In its truest form, for me, it was the final ritual, the sacrament, of setting Linda free. Preceding a final act there is often a flurry of activity and noise, where the final act itself is as simple as an exhale, or a gentle release of ashes into the liquid void. The soul of the departed had already taken flight, so we then, are tasked with offering their physical bodies back to their physical origins.
Oh, what a beautiful ritual! What an exquisite way to part company one final time while being assured that we will never look at the sea the same way again, knowing that it has so gracefully and knowingly accepted our offering. I watched this family walk back from the shore’s edge after having set their loved one free. After their short silent pilgrimage, they tearfully embraced each other, closely and authentically. Shortly, their tears turned to laughter, and the eldest woman exclaimed to her family, “okay, let’s go have a drink!” They all laughed, shaking off the weightiness of their task, and walked away with a lightness in their step.
In her call for a drink, she was saying to them, “now it’s time to celebrate a life and a future, while we honor a past, and we shall do it together in the bloom of each other’s love in the present”.
To which I say, “Amen”.