By Janie Fried
Elaine Bomford is our classmate from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City. She is tall. She carries her height with an introspective poise and this, although I’m not certain, could be one reason our drama teacher casts Elaine as the Fortune Teller in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Skin of Our Teeth
,” is what we call the play about the endurance of our humanity.
We rehearse so much we know each other’s lines. Elaine still quotes – literally from our Wilder days – a favorite from her role as the Fortune Teller, Esmeralda, in Act II of Skin
“I tell the future … but who can tell your past, -- eh?”
She can tell some of mine, and vice-versa. Sure our pasts are longer now, but so what? Such are my thoughts that lead me recently to ask Elaine for help with a situation
. As I tell her in my request:
The morning is quiet and cloudy, not a typical Southern California day. I have driven out to the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Santa Clarita to see if any treasures are on the shelves. Haven’t found a thing when, behind the front counter, where you check out, on a shelf below a window, I see a tall green vase. Its glass is translucent – deep and crystal-laden, the color of robust juniper.
“May I please see that vase?” I say to a young man standing behind the cash register:
He hesitates. I look at him directly.
He steps back far enough so the strings of his red apron show.
“Oh that,” he says. “That’s not a vase.” He turns around and lifts the art from the shelf.
As he carries the heavy vessel toward me, on top of the smooth and fragmented glass of the deepest greens and blacks, I see, a lid. It’s an urn.
“Somebody’s in there,” he says. “It’s haunted.”
“Some body’s ashes?”
He nods, gravely.
“Left? Here?” A protective instinct comes over me. “What are you going to do with the ashes? I mean him, her?” Could be an animal, even.
“We’re waiting for the manager,” he says. “She’s on vacation. For three weeks.”
As there are no other customers, and I’m not going to be one he’s decided, the clerk soon returns the urn to its place under the window and behind the register. He smoothes his apron and then he walks away, leaving me to ponder the glass art with someone’s ashes in it.
“Maybe it’s not the lousiest thing in the world to have your remains end up at the Salvation Army Thrift Store,” I say when the clerk returns.
He tells me what he can, while protecting what he must. The people up the chain at the Salvation Army, so far, are hoping the person who dropped off what’s left of a once-breathing creature inside that exquisite glass will discover the mistake and return.
“It was a local,” he says.
As I leave the store, I feel as if I never want to return. Why would someone drop off an urn full of ashes at the Salvation Army Thrift Store? Was it intentional? A mistake? Who knows? Had the drop-off-ee thought who would find the urn full of some one’s ashes? Such a sense of abandonment overcomes over me. Something is needed. This is when I decide to contact Elaine Bomford, who is now The Rev. Elaine.
My friend from high school has followed a spiritual path. Most of Elaine’s life work is as a Unitarian/Universalist minister.
“Would you please write a eulogy?” I ask. “I can’t think of a better way to end this story. We need closure.”
And, Rev. Elaine writes these words:
Giver of Life, creator of stars and crystals, origin of mind and source of love, it is you who forms all living beings, you who sparks each beat of our hearts and animates the breaths we take. It is you who accompanies us, closer than we are to ourselves, through the transformations of experience. You are with us in the waters of the womb. You walk the earth with us. You lift our spirits up from the fire when the body is done.
For some reason beyond our knowing, oh wise and loving trickster, you have caught our sister Janie's eye with a sparkle of green glass and revealed to her a deeper mystery. You have prompted her to share a story she can never know.
All we may know, and this we affirm in our prayer, is that you know each of us better than we know ourselves.
We thank you for this life. We thank you for reminding us of how little we know of one another, and how much we have in common. We thank you for the sense of wonder and respect for every life that leads us to make this humble prayer. You keep the truth of who we are vibrant in each moment, and hold our being in the memory of the universe itself. Blessed be the spirit of the person whose ashes are in the green glass vase. Blessed be each one of us. AMEN
Did I tell you Elaine graduated Harvard Divinity? Her words reflect the fragile brilliance of our humanity. Art doesn’t disband; it expands. “We have to go on,” as Thornton Wilder writes, “for ages and ages…” These are my thoughts while driving back to the Salvation Army in Santa Clarita. It is a slow afternoon and warm inside the store. Some of the guys are standing around the counter. The clerk who first told me the story of the green glass vase is not among these guys. I look up to the shelf in front of the window. The urn is gone. I feel empty.
“Is the manager back from vacation?”
“Not yet,” one of the guys says. He steps to the side of the register. On a lower shelf, closer to the register, I see something tall and green.
“Oh, him,” another guy gives the vessel a friendly glance. “He’s not for sale.”
So, the ashes are a “he.” They have become attached.
“He’s with us,” a third guy says.
We all look at the urn. How safe and protected it is.
This will not last forever; the urn will be taken away, where we don’t know. These guys might miss the spirit of the being inside that green glass. Closure must expand.
“I brought you something.” On the counter, I lay the pages of the story, as it is so far, with the full text of the illuminating words from my friend, Elaine.
As I see it, glass can shatter, ashes scatter, words live on.
Janie Fried, an author and journalist, lives near Los Angeles. Contact: Janie.Fried@gmail.com, Twitter@JanieFried. To contact Rev. Elaine Bomford of Ashburnham, Massachusetts, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2013 by Janie Fried
All Rights Reserved
No part of this text may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author(s) except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Republished with permission