The monks spanned a range of ages, and they sat accordingly, the younger monks in the second row and the old geezers up front. They had a little time to kill, so this one decided to have a cigarette.
Several women went around with platters of a sprig of wood shaving curled just so with a sort of prayer typed on it. I tried to pick one up for Tuey but she was adamant she must take her own. There was a hierarchical order to people going up to put these on the pyre, first family with some chanting by the monks, then her close friends, then the teachers who had her in school, and then there was the general scrum, of which I was a part.
I should note that at this point there were close to one hundred people who had arrived walking from the family home behind the truck and who now sat in the grass all about us. There was one group of farmer men who sat over on their own, smoking and not doing much of the weiing and praying. This is just after I placed my merit stick on the pyre.
I said a little prayer thing- not really knowing what to pray for for a dead buddhist- I hope you don't come back? At least not as an American politician or media figure? I just said I hoped she was at peace where ever she was. You can see the suitcase on the pyre here and the big plastic bag of what looked like clothes or at least cloth of some kind. There followed a long session of chanting by all the monks, the ancient one leading on the microphone. They had strung another line of string from the casket to where he sat and chanted, which was then removed when they set two big-assed logs on either side on top. I am being a bit crude in using that term, but these actually crushed the casket, which I knew then was not made out of the dense mahogany seen nearly everywhere. A man in orange, but not a monk, lit some torches and handed them to the monks who had stepped forward.
While they were doing this, other men were liberally dousing the pile with some kind of gasoline, diesel or kerosene I am assuming since it did not explode when the monks torched it. Oddly, the moment it was ignited, the crowd dispersed. Clearly the ceremony and all of its symbolism was geared to the moments prior to the fire beginning. No one stayed to witness the actual fire doing its work, with the exception of the younger monks in the second row
I thought about the woman as I stood there. She was 52. Just a year older than me. Apparently she had been diagnosed with liver cancer a scant two months earlier. When I suggested it might be drinking unfiltered water-something I had heard from my British friend Allen-the teachers all insisted no, it was from eating too much raw Goong and raw fish- which I suppose could have something to do with the water or it could just be what the public here is afraid of the way we are quite sure that this, that, and the other thing is what causes cancer in the USA. It was. I would have to say a pretty good funeral- one I wouldn't mind. Out here in the open and simple. Befitting a villager's life, or perhaps any life when you get down to it- all the ashes to ashes, dust to dust aspects if you know what I mean. Beats a lot of Cadillacs and monster wreaths. I guess the flames are not hot enough, the way they are in commercial crematoriums in the US, to burn up the bones, so the next day the family comes back to sift through the ashes for them. They then take these to a wat for burial, though some people keep a bone or tooth to hang on a necklace as a charm. If any gold or precious stones turn up, it is considered a gift from the deceased to the finder. A few posts ago I titled In the End is my Beginning. I took it from a TS Eliot poem since it fit the occasion of one year transforming into another, but it was the venerable Mary Queen of Scots who first uttered it, just before they chopped her head off. I suppose it had a political meaning, since her martyrdom would increase her reputation, but primarily she meant it to speak to her faith in beginning something better or at least different. I really wanted to stay and keep watching, but my ride was leaving. In the end it was just this young boy and I interested in looking into the flames as she made her journey from flesh to heat and light.
And then his attention turned elsewhere as well,
and it was only me and the ubiquitous blue chairs.