Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Scattered ashes

Author: Paulo Coelho

I’ve always thought about what happens when we scatter a little of ourselves across the Earth. I have had my hair cut in Tokyo, have clipped my nails in Norway, watched my blood flow from a wound halfway up a mountain in France. In my first book, “The Archives of Hell” (which has never been reprinted), I speculated about this, as if we felt we had to sow a little of our own body in various parts of the world, so that in a future life, something would be familiar to us. I recently read in the French newspaper Le Figaro, an article by Guy Barret about a true story which took place in 2001, when someone took this idea to its final conclusion.

Who managed to do it? Vera Anderson, who spent her entire life in the town of Medford, Oregon. In old age, she was the victim of a cardiovascular accident made worse by emphysema of the lungs, forcing her to spend years in her room connected to a balloon of oxygen. As if all this wasn’t enough of a burden, Vera’s case was even more cruel, because she had always dreamed of going round the world, and had saved up in order to do so in retirement.

Vera managed to be transferred to Colorado, so that she might spend her remaining days in the company of her son, Ross. There, before making her final journey – the one none of us return from – she took a decision. Since she would never get to know even her own country, she would travel after she died.

Ross went to the local notary office and registered her mother’s will: when she died, she wished to be cremated. So far, nothing unusual. But the will went on: her ashes were to be placed in 241 little bags, which were to be sent to the chiefs of the mail services in 50 American states, and each of the 191 countries in the world – so that at least part of her body would end up visiting the places she always dreamed about.

As soon as Vera departed, Ross fulfilled her last wish with the dignity one would expect of a son.
Each parcel carried an accompanying letter asking for a laying to rest worthy of her mother.

All the people who received Vera Anderson’s ashes respectfully obeyed Ross’s wish.

Thus, Vera’s ashes were scattered on Lake Titicaca, in Bolivia, following the ancient traditions of the Aymara Indians; on the river outside the royal palace in Stockholm; on the banks of Choo Praya, in Thailand; at a Shinto temple in Japan; on the icecaps of Antarctica; in the Sahara desert. The brothers of a charitable orphanage in South America (the article doesn’t say which country) prayed for a week before casting the ashes in the garden – and they then decided that Vera Anderson should be considered a type of guardian angel of that place.

Ross Anderson received photos from the five continents, from all races and cultures, showing men and women honoring his mother’s last wish.
When we see such a divided world as today’s, and think no one could care less about each other, this last journey of Vera Anderson fills us with hope, knowing that respect, love and generosity still dwell in the souls of our fellow men and women, however distant they may be.

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