The setting of the winter’s sun scrolled its light across the water, a quiet eulogy to the passing of a season. Moving away from the crispness of autumns embrace and then much further from the brilliance of a summer sunrise, winter had come slowly this year. By now it had gripped the shore fully in its embrace. From here the coast seemed pitiful; against the ocean it became lost in the infinitum of water and sky. This was the season for pitiful coasts. Those who live at its stead can speak to the ways in which waves and winds scarp and carve away at the beach by winter, encroaching ever more upon territory once reserved for the land, leaving it feeble by its summer comparison. Storms had compromised it further. They pulled away sand and left the foundations of oceanfront bungalows exposed for the world to see; but the world was not here to witness it. Today there was only the wind, the waves and a woman, quietly grieving for both the passage of a season and the passage of another.
Standing near the sea she tried to recall when first the thought that death was a fact of life had surfaced in her mind. It was somewhere lost in her memory, faded as the Polaroid in her pocket. Some summer long ago when the passage of a family pet brought to truth the circumstances of this existence. Sometimes the reality had caused her dread but often it simply peaked her interest, bringing to light a sort of morbid curiosity for which she had developed a reputation among'st her friends. That reputation had landed her the sad duty for which she had been tasked today.
She came to the shore because there was poetry in the way in which the land seemed to die here, falling for all time to the oceans watery grip. The course sand reminded her of the deserts from those biblical stories she had been told in her childhood. Though this beach was small by all standards her journey might as well have taken forty days and forty nights. He had passed almost two months ago but his ashes had waited on her kitchen table until now; until the sun had fallen upon the last day of fall and into the first night of winter.
It had come slowly for him and quietly for her. When he had fallen ill few words were exchanged describing the state of his health. She heard from family when he was diagnosed, from a close friend when he was hospitalized, from his own enthusiastic mouth when he had begun to recover and from a merciful nurse when it had taken a turn for the worse. By fall the battle had run its course. The toll it had taken upon his body was too great, and just as the leaves fell from the trees so too did his spirit fall with each monumental breath. With what might have been the last bit of will he could supply he scrolled down his last wishes; instructions for the disposal of his remains. It had been long since they had seen each other and so the careful nature by which he had selected her for the task was met with skepticism by others, but his wishes were to be upheld. She was to retrieve his ash and have it scattered near Kismet by the end of fall and at the dawn of winter.
One cannot know the goings on of another’s mind, and she could not imagine what his thoughts contained upon his last days, but she understood the gesture. He was a poet after all. Always in search of the right words, the right moment to end a story. Even if it was his own story he would have been determined to make it right and make it magnificent. They would have one last walk upon the shore where they had spent so much of their childhood, where they had pondered the wonders of the universe and spoken of poetry and of art and of the brilliance of wild creatures and of what it meant to exist; one last walk where they had learned to live with the hope that they might learn to let go.
The sea is often unforgiving;. Unable to swim it will not hesitate for you to catch your breath. The sea is also gentle. Cleansing. Quick to yield when the right strength is brought to bear. Wading into the shallows her ankles were swallowed by its embrace. Cold to the point of freezing, but cool to the point of numbing her pains. She kneeled down to submerge the urn in hand, the ocean rushing in to greet him. Barely a moment passed before he was gone, a part of the sand and a part of the sea which had been so familiar to them. She allowed herself a moment to mourn his passing and another to mourn the passage of fall, reminding herself that the days would get longer from there.
She had known little of death in her life, a fact for which she was grateful, but her fascination with it meant that it was always nearby, lingering in the passage of a day or in the loss of a moment. Today she had felt it most tangibly. Though it terrified her and caused her great suffering she could find comfort in the words of an author he had quoted often in his writing and in his speech. To think of death and pain and anger and the whole lot of suffering experienced in life was a terrible thing…
“But let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged,
the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious.”
–Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums