Stairways to Heaven

Maybe it was bound to happen. Again. Flashbacks. Waking up in a sweat. Everything falling; poles, random items, people twirling and tipping around as they are being sucked down into a vortex. I don’t know if I was among the falling, at least I didn’t see myself. But the vividness of the nightmare was sufficient to shake my limbs into a panicked state of wakefulness at just before 3 am. That was it for a night’s sleep.

After washing my face, I climbed back into bed, wrapped myself in the cozy duvet as if in a cocoon, stared out the window, wondering what could have possibly triggered this latest setback. And then it struck me: preparations for the upcoming cremation, of course.

I’ve been diligently and almost-obsessively documenting (through photography) the step-by-step work, in all its sparkling details and sheer magnificence, for the past few weeks. The cremation of a royal family member who passed away in May is coming up on August 18th – yes, nearly four months after her death. Not unusual on this island; unique only in that it’s a royal cremation, hence it’s a royally big and expensive deal.

They pull out all the stops when the royals die; the highest, most elaborately decorated funerary tower – with equally high stairways that facilitate transfer of the wrapped corpse into a massive, bulging-eyed cavernous bull. The higher the staircase and tower, the nearer the corpse and soul are to heaven.

In this case, the towering structures have been under construction for weeks. Built from bamboo, wrapped up in miles and miles of white cloth, there are now three or four each soaring perhaps 20 meters or more into the sky. Awe-inspiring in size, grandeur and craftsmanship.

Perhaps my nocturnal flashback has been churning around inside of me for weeks…

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