Traveling Mercies Excerpt, Anne Lamott

“Twice I have held the ashes of people I adored – my dad’s, my friend Pammy’s. Nearly twenty years ago I poured my father’s into the water near Angel Island, late at night, but I was twenty-five years old and very drunk at the time and so my grief was anesthetized. When I opened the box of his ashes, I thought they would be nice and soft and, well, ashy, like the ones with which they anoint your forehead on Ash Wednesday. But they’re the grittiest of elements, like not very good landscaping pebbles. As if they’re made of bones or something.

I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years. And this time I was able to see, because it was daytime and I was sober, the deeply contradictory nature of ashes – that they are both so heavy and so light. They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater. I licked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burned away. They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way. We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on shore, under a true-blue sky, but they would not cooperate. They rarely will. It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least  a little closure, a movie moment when you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse. They don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.

By the time I held Pammy’s ashes in my hand, I almost liked that they grounded me in all the sadness and mysteriousness; I could find a comfort in that. There’s a kind of sweetness and attention that you can finally pay to the tiniest grains of life after you’ve run your hands through the ashes of someone you loved. Pammy’s ashes clung to us. And so I licked them off my fingers. She was the most robust and luscious person I have ever known.” – Anne Lamott

A year or so after first reading this passage and I thought of it again this morning. For love, for friendship, for having those in our lives so full of life we want to taste them. I love this passage – stunning and sad. I love it for making me feel.

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