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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5 Responses to Traveling Mercies Excerpt, Anne Lamott

  1. I love the raw truths in this writing, Rachel. Anne Lamott’s and yours. Thank you – taste cannot be underestimated as a sense; neither in the moment nor in the remembering.
    May the coming year support you lovingly in all your creative adventuring. Love, Claire x

    • rachvb says:

      And you, Dear Claire. I’ll think of you by the water.

      • rachvb says:

        And I love the taste aspect of this passage because it’s so honest – it’s the last physical piece she had of her and it’s the only thing she can do to ensure this person always remains inside her – emotionally and physically.
        It’s very moving to me. We all have loves we don’t ever want to let go of.

  2. Anne Lamott seems to speak the language of grief in a way that allows her, and us, to bear it. By giving it taste and texture beyond weeping it grows more meaningful, it is not just sadness. A fitting excerpt for year’s end, the losses we have known. How much better to feel them than not. There is always hard work to be done.

    • rachvb says:

      She is one of the greats in my mind. Her writing is so effortless which requires such effort and skill. “Bird by Bird” was the first book about writing I read when I was 16 – I hold it as another of my “bibles.”
      You are right – the senses other than sadness give life much more meaning – because that is what life is, so much more than just sadness. Scary to think where we would all be if we could not feel. I am grateful for all of it in the end and for always finding a center in the beauty of life.
      Happy New Year, Marylinn.

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