Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I’m what you would call a lapsed Roman Catholic, focusing instead on exploring my faith in a scattered, lazy, non-directional way, but the seeds of Catholicism lie deep, and I can’t help feeling the tides of the year as they swing along the Christian calendar. I remember going to Mass as a kid and having ashes ground into my forehead, as the priest intoned, “Remember, Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” Of course, as a woman, I felt pretty darn secure as a kid. Most of the prohibitions and serious talks seemed to be geared to the men in the audience. I figured I didn’t really matter that much to the man upstairs unless I was a. a virgin and/or b. martyred in some horrible way. I even prayed for the latter, after watching “Song of Bernadette” on the Saturday afternoon movie circuit. I kindof suspected the virgin thing might not fly for long…
In any case, the dust thing is beginning to get annoying. I know we all have to die, yep, I know that. I’ve been humble enough to realize that while global warming might kill US, it might be a darn good thing for nature in general – a flushing of the unpleasant human virus, a return to homeostasis.
But the dust thing feels totally different when it happens to those you love. Losing people, to illness or age or both, is so hard. You can believe in an afterlife where we will all be together in perfect harmony, if you like, but as my family never lived in perfect harmony on earth, if they did “up there” it would be just plain weird. I wouldn’t recognize them. Although I do fantasize about all my aunts and uncles and parents sitting about playing duplicate bridge, I just know my dad would be off somewhere, drinking peppermint schnapps and hoping for a holiday in hell.
Losing people still means that you lose them in the now, you lose the benefit of their company, their laugh, the look of their eyes when they gaze at you with fondness, the sound of their voice when raised in anger or joy or passion. The loneliness is still there, no matter what you believe. Saddest thing of all is that after a while, you forget them a bit – you forget the way they sat or spoke or the books they read or the sound of their voice. Eventually they become faded and dry, like those ashes.
I’m feeling a bit testy about this because I am so sad about people whose lives are touched by this, in this grimmest season. I feel an overwhelming urge to fly to Rio and dance madly, scare the grey shadows away – but all that is over for another year, and we are now in Lent, a time of thought and prayer and all those grey things.
Back when I was little, I gave up chocolate for Lent. Or I gave up complaining. Or I gave up something that wouldn’t cost me too much. It seemed an academic exercise at best. This year, I am going to look for life among the ashes, cherish the time I’ve been given, apply my gifts wholeheartedly, dance in my own way to do honour to those who can no longer do so. And pray heartily for those who are dealing with fires.
If I’m going to be an ash, I may as well burn brightly before going out.
Picture credit: http://agentorangerecords.blogspot.com/2011/03/ash-wednesday-2011-true-grit.html