What does it all mean, this life we are granted? asks Rico Provasoli.
Man has buried their dead at sea since the beginning.
In high school most of us learned that we crawled from the sea,
that during gestation in our mother’s womb, we swam in a sea of amniotic fluid like fish, that our bodies’ composition is not measurably different from the sea.
A dear friend’s brother passed away after a long illness. His remains were kept in a drawer for a couple of years. We had spoken of giving him a memorial at sea, but the timing never was right.
And then the perfect conditions arrived, my buddy boarded my small ship with a lovely wooden box and we headed out where it is legal to spread ashes. The day was unusually warm in November, the seas were calm and the mood on board was uplifting. We motored to a water front restaurant, dined and toasted to the departed and then left the restaurant dock a little tipsy. The brisk salt air quickly sobered me. My radio was tuned to the commercial shipping channel and the Coast Guard to keep me alerted to any traffic I needed to know about. The way out to sea was clear, and we traveled to open waters, my buddy preparing himself for the plunge, for giving his brother back to the sea.
Many thoughts and feelings arose as I prepared for the final send off. The premature death of my own brother some fifty years earlier, my parents and other sibling also gone. The grief of all men and women who have lost someone, either early in life or late. And yet, the sea sparkled in the sun, the gentle ocean swells majestic, the eternal flow and ebb of giant tides and the daring of men who have left the shelter of harbor to enter the mystery of the sea and her ways somehow buoyed me.
I said a few prayers to the gods of all marine engines that she would not sputter and fail us on this most sacred journey. Eventually we came to a spot that called me. I cut the engine. We floated, drifted as my buddy prepared for the final farewell to his only family. He had given me a playlist for my Bluetooth waterproof speaker. Just as he started to pour the remains (really more like ground bone than ashes) into the great swells, Simon and Garfunkel belted out their signature song Homeward Bound: Home where my love lies waitin’, Silently for me.
Well, that was enough—we both wept openly.
And then, the great dissolve began. We both said a few words of memories of the man, now ashes. The sea accepted the remains as one of her own. The cycle of birth, life, death and return was taking place before us. The poetry of it all brought us both to more tears. It was the most exquisite moment. All the dogma, the theology, the religious discussion of the dearly departed seemed but a childlike attempt to comment on what was being revealed before us, just off the rails of the ship: the mystery taking ahold of our hearts, opening us. I felt cleansed. Reborn. In this most perfect moment, all was well with life, with death, with suffering not only for me, but for all who have ever lived. How could there ever be a problem? The sea had shown us the utmost compassion. Taking the remains of a body wreaked with pain and absorbing all of it. It was not a life wasted, but an expression of the wonder of the cosmos returning to Source.
The remains looked like a milky cloud on the surface. It slowly dissipated, dissolving into the green ocean. Somehow, I’d imagined the ashes would immediately become invisible, but it was more like smoke from a fire that could be seen long after the flame had gone out. We stared and started to say more. There were no words. The end of the line for a man’s life simply floated on the surface, not in any rush to leave us. A slight breeze puffed across the cloudy water, the wavelets then finished the visual sighting. The cremated remains of a body were no longer with us. It was done.
But I could not move myself to start the engine. It seemed a sacrilege to disturb the tranquility. The great dissolve was not finished, it was working on those of us on board. What does it all mean, this life we are granted? Or are we sniffing down a false trail trying to make sense of the miracle? Are we confounding ourselves by trying to reduce the ineffable to a convenient philosophy, an explanation that puts to rest the incomprehensible? Finally, I sighed. There was nothing to do but to turn the key, the motor grumbled to life and we ever so slowly rode the flood tide back home.
Article originally posted in The Good Men Project and on Medium.
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