Words for a particular scattering of ashes
August 24, 2017 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I was health care proxy and general carer for a man in our Quaker meeting who lived in a local nursing home. He died in May, and a very small group of us will be scattering his ashes this Saturday. I am usually very good at finding readings for things but I am at a loss this time. More details below.

He had a quite difficult life. He came out when he was forty. He never had a conventional long-term relationship.

Many of the books he read in his last three years were accounts of people transitioning from male to female. Though he never talked about it with me, I suspect that his interest was more than academic. I often wondered whether, if he had had more time and better support, he might have transitioned himself. (He did have folks he could have talked about this with; he wasn't entirely alone with these concerns. But he was already pretty elderly when it finally started to seem possible.)

Under ordinary circumstances I would be able to find something appropriate, something from the Quaker tradition, but I can't think of anything that would be true to who he was. I wonder if there is a passage from a book or a poem that expresses the freedom to be who one is -- especially the freedom to be the sexual self one is.

Many, many thanks.
posted by nohattip to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe, though a lot of it is more cerebral in nature, maybe something from Maggie Nelson's fabulous book "The Argonauts"?

A few passages spring to mind: "A day or two after my love pronouncement, now feral with vulnerability, I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.”

"I don’t want any of it. How to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is OK—desirable, even (e.g., “gender hackers”)—whereas for others, or for others at some times, it stays a source of conflict or grief? How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?”

“A becoming in which one never becomes, a becoming whose rule is neither evolution nor asymptote but a certain turning, a certain turning inward, turning into my own / turning on in / to my own self / at last / turning out of the / white cage, turning out of the / lady cage / turning at last.”

"Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people. This is a crucial point to remember, and also a difficult one. It reminds us that there is difference right where we may be looking for, and expecting, communion.”

And finally one of my favorites: "Empirically speaking, we are made of star stuff. Why aren't we talking more about that? Materials never leave this world. They just keep recycling, recombining. That's what you kept telling me when we first met—that in a real, material sense, what is made from where. I didn't have a clue what you were talking about, but I could see you burned for it. I wanted to be near that burning. I still don't understand, but at least now my fingers ride the lip."
posted by barchan at 1:53 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I realize a "quick glance" isn't really adequate here, but at a quick glance ...

It Was Like This: You Were Happy by Jane Hirshfield
The Layers by Stanley Kunitz
O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:57 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

This speaks more, perhaps, more to one of half of what you're looking for than to the other, but, to very slightly paraphrase William Penn, writing in 1668:
'[Truth] doesn't turn men out of the world, but enables them better to live in it, and excite their endeavors to mend it; not hide their candlestick under a bushel, but set it upon a table in a candlestick.'
('True godliness' in the original quote, in place of 'truth.)
posted by cjelli at 2:03 PM on August 24, 2017

Perhaps "The Journey" by Mary Oliver
posted by belladonna at 2:04 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are going to be four of us there, and I'm going to excerpt passages from those quoted here for each of us to read. They are lovely. It will be easier now.
posted by nohattip at 5:09 PM on August 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

Maybe something from Leaves of Grass?
posted by bluebird at 6:13 AM on August 25, 2017

Maybe something from Leaves of Grass?

Yeah, Walt Whitman seems to be a really good fit for the circumstances.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:02 AM on August 25, 2017

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