Tuesday, June 29, 2010

YaYo Beads

Yayo Beads
Originally uploaded by satyridae
Last fall, one of my oldest friends died after a shockingly short illness. I went back to her house to help her kids sort through the accumulation of a lifetime and brought her ashes home with me for scattering later, when all the kids would be available. Laurel's ashes went on my cookbook shelf, cozied up to The Joy Of Cooking, which book she bought for me a thousand years ago.

I got used to having her there on the shelf, and though I'm not a believer in any sort of afterlife, I did address the odd remark to the urn. Then I started to think about beads. Glass beads in particular, and I wondered if there was some way to incorporate ashes into a bead for some sort of permanent memorial. The internet confirmed that not only could it be done, it had been done. I got in touch with all the kids to make sure they would be okay with that. They agreed, and I decided to give it a try.

I was shockingly unprepared for the visceral reaction I had to opening the urn and realizing that the pile of grit and ash and metal (metal?) was all that was left of my friend. I sifted a tiny bit of powdery ash into a baby food jar and walked blindly into the studio where I sifted the ash through several very fine mesh filters until I had something more like face powder than ash.

I lined the powder up on a graphite pad and was inevitably reminded of cocaine. At this point I started talking aloud to Laurel, crying and laughing at the same time. I lit the torch and laid down a base bead of black glass. Once it was a good shape, I got the surface of it cherry-red and lightly rolled it through the line of ash. Then I encased the ash with a thick layer of clear. As I said before, I'm not a believer in any conventional sort of spirituality, but this was perhaps the most profound experience of my life to date. I felt my friend standing at my shoulder, and as I made bead after bead, I was able to say some of the things I didn't get to say after she got sick and died so fast. When I had a kiln full of YaYo beads (what the littlest one called her- he couldn't say Laurel- and of course it caught on) and no more tears left, I gathered up the tiny bit of ash that was left and put it in the garden.

The next morning I took the beads out of the kiln. They were spectacular- each one a tiny universe of stardust spangled across a black or blue background. The ashes look like galaxies, like the promise of infinity, like maybe somehow it all makes sense. There were enough that all of the kids and all of their kids could have one. There was one that quite clearly belonged to me. And they resonate.