ashes to ashes

Photo by Amber

Yesterday I did something that I'm probably not supposed to do: I took my friend Ludmilla to a funeral parlor to select an urn for her husband's ashes. Cremation is not generally practiced in the Eastern Orthodox church because we cherish our bodies as images of the divine. We believe that even ever they've been laid in the ground, they still have something good ahead, a soul reunion. Cremation doesn't honor this belief in the same way. Plus, why make things more complicated for God? What an awful lot of work to send him scouting for our precious ashes on the bottom of the Pacific. Not to say He isn't up to the task, but doesn't an earthen burial just keep things simpler?

At any rate, there's the ideal somewhere out there, and there is the reality of parish life, and the choices people have made long before we came to the mission, choices they embrace with all their heart and soul. And all this leads me back to the funeral parlor, with Ludmilla, who didn't have such a hard time picking out the urn after all.

While we were there, the funeral director explained to Ludmilla that she didn't owe a penny for her husband's services. She'd paid into an insurance policy all these years, and now she was in the clear. Ludmilla couldn't believe this gift, after all she'd been through caring for Rolf in his final year.

So we climbed back into the car with Rolph's ashes on Ludmilla's lap. As I backed out of the parking lot, her face was radiant. "The God is merciful" she says, "He takes care of me!" I glance over at her, sitting there, cradling her husband's ashes, and everything falls back into perspective.

It has been an intense few weeks. We have received news that the home we've been living in as caretakers is going to auction on March 6th. The owners have been unable to keep up with the mortgage, and we, like thousands of other Americans, are now living a home that is moving toward an uncertain end. We are just waiting now, not quite sure how concerned we should be about the impending auction in light of how slowly everything is unfolding. We are waiting, I should say, and hoping that it will somehow be possible for us to stay awhile longer. We don't feel done yet.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In light of all this uncertainty, it helps me to remember how transitory everything is, how every home we've ever inhabited is just a tent after all, this one a little more glorious than the others, still just a temporary dwelling as we ache toward a more permanent home. And it helps to think of Ludmilla, luminous, with Rolf's ashes on her lap, reminding me that everything turns to ash, eventually. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, everything moving toward impossible hope.