Archive for February 14th, 2018

Ashes to ashes, Stardust to stardust.

amywink February 14th, 2018

“In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
when you look at the sky at night.”

~The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When Stacey decided she had to go on disability as her cancer spread, she faced mounds of paperwork made worse by the continuing solicitous phone calls from her case managers, who always seemed to be asking the most pointless questions that feigned concern or empathy, as if that could be scripted and no one would notice as long as the pauses were in the right place. But Stacey was an authentic person and one who did not tolerate fakery at all. At All. Still, she understood that the person was simply reading off a script and wasn’t really to blame for the words that were not their own. So I heard all about it instead of the case manager and I sympathized, gasped, offered rolled eyes or righteous anger as we wrote to each other so we could both deal with her approaching death.

After one particularly irksome call, during which the case manager glided right over Stacey’s comments about having terminal Stage IV cancer, about being riddled with cancer, about only having maybe a year to live, and asked “what do you think you’d like to do after you get off disability?” Stacey was simply flummoxed as to how to get the person to go off script, to listen to her, the person, not the case she was managing, to think of her and not the money that she was costing her insurance company. As she raged with me, I said “Why don’t you tell her you are looking into a future in compost?” And suddenly her frustrated rage turned to laughter, that saving grace that somehow I often managed to find for her, a little light in the dim world. She laughed and laughed and we thought together about how what her future in compost might involve and how that might trip her case manager off her script. But for me, what I recall was that Stacey laughed. I had given her the right word to turn her draining anger into the nourishment of grace, like compost. It is a lovely memory of a terrible time, good dirt made from decay.

Good dirt nourishes the living. That rich dark compost we add to our gardens comes from the organic remnants we discard, returns to us the food we eat, cycling through our bodies, connecting us whether we notice or not. And in our bodies, the atoms that are “traceable to stars” and our cosmic, biological connection to “every other living thing in the world.” Our chemical “connection to all molecules on Earth.” And our atomic connection “to all atoms in the universe.” We are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson says “not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.

The dust of stars in the ashes of our bodies.


Ashes can be added to acidic soil to raise the Ph balance in soil. Consciously applied, ashes make the ground more tolerable for some plants that need a less acidic soil.

Consciously applied, a single word can make the world more tolerable for someone.

Consciously applied, a single life can turn the soil into something else, balance the faulty chemistry into richness and change the possibilities for a fallow field under a universe of stars.

So many times, Stacey offered the right word, or right understanding, and turned my life onto something else. And so many times, I did the same for her. All of my friends do the same, offering themselves, their understanding, their light. I always try to do the same, to see the person, not the case in front of me, to hear the human being and understand what they might need to hear, so as to turn toward the light. We are in the world to nourish each other, to make each other rich with growth, to return what has been given to us from the soil from which we’ve grown, the soil that also contains the dust of stars.

I do not know what her husband has done with Stacey’s ashes. I am sure she had a plan. I have my mother’s ashes and I hope one day to drive them to New Mexico and leave them in the mountains where we used to camp, where the wind in the trees sounds like the sea. When my father dies, I expect I will do the same. Those ashes may enrich the soil, like their lives enriched mine and others, and I like to think of them returning to the place we loved so much. As for me, I am making rich and vibrant dirt with my life, cultivating myself so I may nourish others. I hope when I am done, when I return to the earth and stardust, I will have left something growing because of my presence, or perhaps at least a little starlight for this dim world.