A year ago today we scattered Sam’s ashes in the Connecticut River. It was a Sunday that dawned grey and moist. Sure enough, as we waited for the captain to make the call, darker clouds rolled in, lightening flashed, thunder roared, and the rain came down. Twenty minutes later, it was over and the skies began to clear.
We embarked from The Marina, heading upriver, north toward Putney. Turning the corner where the West River meets the Connecticut, the vista of the valley opened wide before us and a heron glided to a gentle landing. Mist curled along the shoreline, the trees gleamed, the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire called us into the future. It might have been the beauty that pulled the first wave of grief out of us; how much Sam would have loved this day! Or it might have just been a sad song by Josh Groban. Whatever. 🙂 It was what it was: perfect.
Some of us chatted, pairs forming, breaking up, re-forming. Most of us took a turn at the front of the boat, almost leaning ahead to the site where we would pour Sam’s ashes into the river, giving him back to the earth.
Lou explained that the Connecticut River marks the juncture of two tectonic plates, one that used to be part of Africa, and the one that is still North America. Somehow that struck me as a perfect analogy for Sam: someone who always sought to bridge the continents, who found ways to position himself at the juncture of cultures, languages, religions . . . any kind of socially-constructed difference imaginable. The mood of the previous day’s hugely successful Celebration lingered, yet each of us was also swept in our own particular mourning.
I know I grieved for three that day, the sharpness of Sam’s loss edged up to others. The near-dozen of us found comfort together, talking quietly, teasing, reminiscing, and just being in each other’s presence. Those moments when it became too somber, someone would lighten us up. Jennifer, me, and Lee almost tipped overboard at one point, an occurrence we knew would have amused Sam immensely. What we all know is that Sam did not want to be remembered or memorialized on the basis of his death, but rather on the strength and legacy of his life. So we strove to live this particular voyage as we imagined he would have us do.
I do not know what kind of flowers we had with us – roses, probably. When we reached the point in the river more-or-less directly in line with Sam’s Putney house, and the time felt right, we took turns with the urn, first by the handful and then with an all out upending. Next, we scattered the flowers. Everyone but Sam’s sister Edith meditatively plucked the petals, tossing them into the stream of ashes, adding sparkle to the darkened current. Edith tossed hers whole – an act Sam would surely approve, and there was something about that intact rose which made the ritual perfect. I don’t recall who said the spreading, drifting blossoms looked like the Ganges.
The ride back was quieter yet also somewhat lighter. We had accomplished Sam’s wishes, carried out to the letter. Lee and Pat earn most of the credit for that, but everyone played the necessary parts. No one was in much of a rush to leave, and Lou and Tom did their best to keep us all as long as possible. The blessings of knowing all these people through Sam will stay with me forever.
Right before we headed up the river, while we were waiting for the storm to subside, Lee dug out a card that she had found among Sam’s things in his room. Perhaps this is a figment of my imagination, but the card is addressed to no one in particular. I believe Sam left it for us, for all of us, everyone who knew him, whether or not they made it to any of the events or had not been in touch with him for howsoever long.
Thanks Sam. I still catch amazingly strong whiffs of you in the slow-shifting tides of presence and memory.