Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

I’ll never forget the day my siblings and I said our final goodbye to our father. Just a few days after Christmas in 1998, the four of us traveled to a red covered bridge atop a creek in southern Indiana beloved by my father. Though I’d traveled across that creek countless times in a canoe, these circumstances were obviously quite different.

My dad had not wanted any formal service; he only wanted to be cremated and have the four of us, his children, sprinkle his ashes into this creek via one very specific covered bridge. So on a gray and blustery winter day we found ourselves standing awkwardly on the bridge, holding a large box that contained our father’s ashes.

This is how I remember it.

My brother was holding the box in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Alone on the bridge, the sole inhabitants of the area, we were all standing there shuffling about, trying to figure out how to ceremonialize what we were about to do. Suddenly, a car pulled up into the parking lot, startling us into action. As it happens, disposing of human ashes into public rivers is not altogether legal, so my brother quickly put the cigarette in his mouth, popped open the box, and chucked dad into the river.

Now.  I don’t know about you, but I would expect a large box full of ashes dumped into the wind to immediately scatter into a thousand different directions, whipped up into the sky and beyond That is not what I saw happen, at all.

Instead, what I saw was those ashes stay together in a large silvery gray cluster and land in the creek below. And you know what? Once they hit the water, those ashes still stayed together and floated down the creek until we couldn’t see them anymore. In my mind’s eye I can clearly see them sparkling and dancing together among the rocks and ripples of the water. Whether you believe in the afterlife or a higher power or magic or witchcraft or nothing at all, I will swear to the end that I witnessed… something. That something was be-au-ti-ful. Magical. Kind of indescribable.

I don’t know what that “something” was, any more than I know what happened at my farmhouse all those years ago. I can’t explain a lot of things on this earth, from questions about ghosts or the afterlife to questions like why McDonald’s sweet tea (whose siren song is calling to me now) is so addictive or why Nicki Minaj gets away with singing the crap she does on radio stations designed for very young ears. I can’t explain why we get so mad at other people over choices they make that actually don’t affect us in the least. And, despite my earlier confidence about debunking the Sock Monster, I still haven’t figured out the Mysteries of the Universe.

And here’s something else. That “something” that I experienced on that blustery winter day when I said goodbye to my dad? Well, that’s my something alone. My siblings have their own stories from that day, each as unique and personal as mine.

We all have our “somethings.” The memory that we hold specific and true. The message we get from a friend or stranger at exactly the time we need it. The thing we see out of the corner of our eye. The dream that brings something into focus. The ghost stories. The chance encounters.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and last week I talked about appreciation. I think it’s also important to find gratitude in the “somethings” that we experience… the things we can’t quite explain, the things that are ours alone to hold; the things that reveal, if for but a moment, a universe larger than we could possibly imagine.

As Hamlet said, “…There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Are you allowing yourself to be open to the “somethings”?


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.