I spent last week at Lake Tahoe with my whole extended family preparing to spread the ashes of my grandmother. Now I know that just about everyone thinks that their own grandmother is the best grandmother, but mine totally was. She was cool, calm, collected, and not opposed to getting a little tipsy on Christmas. She was not a woman to overreact and so if she had hard words for you to hear you knew that you deserved it. While not educated in the traditional sense she read everything that she could get her hands on, and thus was self taught. Changing the oil in a car, sewing a new dress, or tiling a bathroom, she knew how to get the job done (though to be fair the time she worked on my moms bathroom she did flood the house).
A woman of such magnitude deserves any last requests. And this amazing woman wanted to be spread in her happy place at Lake Tahoe. Now with all things in a large Italian family this was no small task,there was the usual and predictable bickering and loud voices. There was of course lots of food and booze. We sat in the sunshine at a picnic table under a Ponderosa pine discussing where to spread her ashes. It is of course illegal to scatter ashes in Lake Tahoe (this did not initially deter us). As we devised the most discreet way to respectfully spread our grandmother in a place she loved, I became teary-eyed at the realization that this would be my last adventure with my grandmother. A woman who influenced so much the person that I would become.
At that moment I started to look around and noticed the little treasures all around me. The bits of pinecones strewn in the sand, a Bluejay feather, a gnarled bit of driftwood. I started to gather these items, and as we walked down the beach to do the deed I started to find more treasures. A left behind glow-in-the-dark star, a hawk feather, and once we found her final resting place some sage that would forever carry the smallest trace of the dust that was once her.
I then carefully and lovingly packed away these items onto a suitcase and brought them back to the other side of the country so that I could place them in a mason jar that had once been hers. A jar that she had once made pickles in for her family and the jar that I had once made jam in for my family. That jar now has a special place in my home reminding me of all the best pieces of myself that came from this woman.
This is not the first time I have collected pieces of a place and brought them home to exhibit on a shelf. There of been numerous times in my life when I realized that I am on the precipice of something new and that a moment needs to be acknowledged. This is how I choose to honor those moments, these shifts in time that alter the course of my life. It may be something as simple as a rock covered in moss, like me and my husband picked up in a waterfall the first morning we woke up as a married couple. It may be flowers picked and collected on my last walk through a city, that I am about to move out of, tenderly placed in a jar and brought to a new location. Or even a vase of rocks from all the beaches I have ever walked on, because when on a beach I find myself most at peace, and I want to bring a piece of that with me wherever I am.
So I encourage you to start a new practice. One that honors the steps we take in our lives, or the places that speak to us on a soul level. Carry those places with you, and if you are not one who gravitates towards physical things then try to carry a soul image of that place. When you think of that spot fondly let a warmth take over you that you can retreat to when times are hard. This is just one of the many ways that we not only honor our own journey but the journey we take with others in this lifetime.