And to dust we shall return.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately. And Ash Wednesday always invites me to think about the end of my body’s existence. It will, one day, be dust.
Elizabeth Alexander in her memoir The Light of the World, writes about her husband dying. She sees the moment when she believes the soul of her husband leaves the body:
Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.
Our bodies, which house our souls, will turn to dust. In this life, though, I do believe the body and soul inform each other, co-exist. Our souls are formed by the experience our bodies have. We shall become dust, but dust is not the end of our story.
My friend’s father recently passed away. It was a hard loss. The father was a brilliant man who also struggled as a bipolar alcoholic. My friend did not have time to make amends before his father passed. In the eulogy, he said he needed to honor his father by claiming the complexity of his character, not only remembering the good times or the hard times. Remembering in a compassionate way, he said, meant remembering the wounds and the beauty. He spoke of hearing his father’s voice, free from suffering, isolation and pain. Free. Redeemed. He is dust, and yet he lives on. And my friend spoke of how his father will continue on in this place through his legacy, through how his sons choose to live and love:
Since my dad’s passing, I’ve found myself wishing that I had loved more radically, that I had thought about my legacy. I’ve found myself wishing I had known how to plant more seeds of compassion, pardon, peace, and love in my relationship with dad. Then a voice whispers to me: he says, “I am still here, and you still can.”
To dust we shall return, but dust is not the end of our story.