The Hearth and the Expanse

It’s 2 am. I wake up in five hours. I should be asleep, but I’m hooked on the website It’s a trivia website, the type of site where you learn pieces of irrelevant yet interesting information that will in no-way serve a purpose other than the temporary rush of endorphins the brain releases when it learns something new. In a way, I’m binging on my favorite drug: Knowledge.

One of the pieces of information is about Bob Hope.

"Surprise me" were the last words of the 100 year-old, legendary comedian Bob Hope, responding to his wife's question regarding where he would like to be buried.
[Image from]

Like most things I encounter at 2 am in the morning (internet memes, cockroaches in the kitchen, odd noises in the parking lot), it made me think about my life. I wondered… where would I like to be buried when I die? Eh. I don’t think burial is for me. I wouldn’t want an embalmed burial because I don’t like the idea of being stuffed with sawdust and formaldehyde. I’ve been to various open-casket funerals, and the bodies are just too artificial. The face isn’t quite right, either because it’s collapsed slightly… barely noticeably unless it’s a face you’ve looked at every morning since your birth. Or it’s the coloration, a place where the make-up covered up an all too familiar blemish. Plus, I don’t like the idea of being dead and naked in front of a stranger shoving tubes into me and draining my organs.

I’ve entertained the idea of a non-embalmed burial. That I would return to the Earth from which I came, my corpse a multivitamin of various organic compounds to be recycled and turned into… I don’t know… soil that grows a crop that’s eaten by the future generation. It’s an idea both romantic and macabre.

Cremation is how I’d like to go. I understand that, with cremation, your ashes are often accidentally mixed with a few remaining particles from past cremations. My ashes will have a little bit of Bob and a little bit of Sally in them, along with the cardboard coffin they use to contain the body before its fiery disintegration. I kinda like that idea. The afterlife might be lonely, and it would be nice to have Bob and Sally along for the ride.

Yeah, we’ll go with a cremation.

The next order of business is the final location of the ashes. A lot of people keep them in urns… but I’ve seen far too many sitcoms to know I’ll end up in somebody’s chocolate milk. No, I’d like my ashes spread somewhere. Maybe over the ocean, or over a forest, or in a hearth as a fire roars and warms the family as they remember my life. Again, romantic and macabre.

A dominant portion of me wants my ashes to be launched into space. I have this weird quirk, in that I look at the moon and I promptly become sad. You see, the moon is something I have looked at every night of my life (except for New Moons, obviously). I know it’s there. I’ve seen pictures of its surface. I see it affect the tides and, rather subjectively, my mood. But I know I can never set foot on it. I will never, in my lifetime, obtain even a slight chance to visit. I can’t say that about other places on Earth. Most locations, no matter how remote, are a plane ticket or cruiseline away. But the moon… she is forever just out of my reach. And the same for the stars. And the planets that orbit them. There is so much in this vast universe to see, more than is comprehensible by my limited mind, that is just saddens me.

Ah, but if my ashes were sent into space… oh the things I would see! I imagine myself, as particles of carbon dust, drifting in a million different directions. Part of me might land on Saturn. Part of me might pass through to another galaxy. Part of me may burn up in the atmosphere of an alien planet light years away, entering another ecosystem that human beings will never set eyes on. What a thought! The ultimate adventure for a life after death, to wander the great expanse as a formless vagabond.

And yet, as I think about it… and write about it… now, at 2:23 am in the morning… I have tears in my eyes.

Because it would be so lonely.

Wandering the universe… floating in every direction… leaving a life I’ve cultivated over years of existence. The freedom of it is alluring, but also frightening. Human beings might search for their entire lives looking for a home… and here I am, wanting to leave whatever home I may have created at my time of death.

I ask myself the question now. A question about my values. Do the ashes stay in the hearth, close to the ones I love and knowing that they continue my legacy? Do the ashes spread across the planet, allowing me to return to the ecosystem that birthed my ancestors from the deep, primordial sea? Or do I launch into the Great Expanse on a lonely but breathtaking adventure?

I suppose that’s the beauty of ashes.

I can do all of that.

1/3 of me can warm the family. 1/3 of me can return to the Earth. And 1/3 of me can fly into space, seeing the things my mind wouldn’t be able to comprehend if it were still alive.

I like that idea.