14 March 2006

Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust

The most popular form of the burial liturgy in the United States contains the phrase "Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust." It is probably one of the earliest recorded references to the idea of recycling. Some people try to follow this ideal by cremation followed by a scattering of ashes (the ashes themselves, by the way, don't count as human bodies under laws regulating their disposal). Majority trends in modern burial practices in the United States, however, owe more to Egypt, one of the earliest inventors of embalming and preservation of dead bodies, than they do to Christian doctrine.

A new movement favors an alternative, green burials in which bodies are interred in a manner that permits them to decompose and return to the earth, without preservatives or non-biodegradable barrier betweeen the body and the earth in which it is buried. It also uses less scarce energy than a cremation, and its inexpensive. The location of the burial is recorded, but only a small monument, if any, is placed on the site. Plans to establish this kind of cemetery on the Eastern Plains of Colorado are underway.

It is a neat idea. And, there is no real logical reason that a monument to remember the dead must be placed in the same place as the body is located. War memorials and memorials for those lost at sea routinely lack this character, and a memorial park bench can provide as much solace to those who survive the dead, as a granite grave stone.

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