I don’t know what happens when we die, if anything happens. And here’s the thing, I won’t know until it happens, or doesn’t happen.
But I now understand what becomes of the physical remains of a body, what the iterations and generations of the world’s religions mean when they say, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Because that’s my Dad. He’s dust. His cremains, now in some boxes, a carved study oak one, a simple bamboo canister, a tiny vessel that I can fit in my pocket. And from the crematorium into the atmosphere too, no doubt. The iron and sodium and magnesium and calcium and all the things that made his cells sing until they went quiet. They are still here. In the dust, traveling and settling and getting kicked up again to be on the move.
I think it’s true that matter is not created nor destroyed. At least that is how I’m sleeping at night.
So, maybe, my Dad is the dust that was on my hiking books, when we descended into Glen Canyon on this wretchedly hot and stifling weekend, determined that the “unhealthy for some” air quality exempted us, and, in particular, me. I needed to show them that I’m fine in every way. I’m tough. I got this. I was not fine, as the dust in the air that filled my lungs – even through the breaths I took with the mask on – made me wonder what it was like to suffocate.
Or perhaps my Dad was in the piles of paper I’ve been going through, my pandemic project. Every scrap of paper, it seems, that’s passed through my hands to my grandparents or to my parents. Letters, artwork, pictures, memories, the story of my life out of any logical sequence. Stuffed sideways into boxes. A note home about my college boyfriend and the trouble we were having. My first-grade report card. My favorite picture of my Aunt Lula Mae in a fur coat with her cat eye glasses. My grandma GG’s lasagna recipe. I breathed them in, each one, over these last six months, the layers of dust and the smells of places far away and vivid pictures in my mind that accompany me. Maybe I was breathing in my Dad.
Maybe my Dad is mixed with the dust of fires. Dust that now resides high up in the atmosphere above San Francisco making the sun red. The dust of the floor boards, the bedframes, insulation, wedding pictures, dishes, tennis shoes. The dust of forests, brittle leaves, delicate branches, dense underbrush, soil. The dust of the small animals and the big animals. The dust of other bodies.
I wonder if he’s lonely and if he misses us.
I breathe in and I breathe him in.
He’s with me wherever I go, and when I go again, I’ll bring him to the corners of the earth if I don’t already find him there.