Initially, I thought it was odd that a column fell due each year on the same holiday. It only took a few, slightly embarrassing moments to make the correlation between the fact my writing typically appears on a Wednesday, and Ash Wednesday always falls on, well, Wednesday. I guess it’s one holiday I have no excuse to miss. I love learning about the more obscure holidays, and there are plenty of them around, like one of my perennial favorites, Talk Like a Pirate Day, falling on Sept. 19. This day also leaves me wondering about its origins, who had the gumption to make it “official” and, really, how do we know how pirates converse? We’ll leave that one for September, matey.
This week’s holidays seemed to be marked by their apparent contrasts. While we generally miss out on Mardi Gras, it being a school night and all, no doubt many enjoyed the fun to be had last night. Come Wednesday things become a bit more subdued as we start our trek toward Easter. This year, Easter rolls around on April 20, a bit later than usual. The late date may suggest Easter will not be accompanied by the snowstorm that’s stymied many a prior egg hunt, but I’m not willing to bet on it.
The first time I saw someone in the county sporting ashes on a Wednesday afternoon I jumped right in to lend a hand, first casually pointing to their forehead. When my discrete efforts didn’t produce the desired result, I blurted out they had some sort of smudge on their head, offering a box of Kleenex. It’s something any good friend would do. We all know being smudged with dirt in Summit County this time of year is commonplace, especially if we’ve touched the outside of our car in the last few months. My comment quickly gave away the fact I was not raised in the tradition of attending church on Ash Wednesday. Fortunately, my friend, being the forgiving sort, laughed off my faux pas. But the exchange made me curious why folks would intentionally mark themselves one day a year, only to weather helpful comments from people like me.
The ashes, not surprisingly, are symbolic. Not just because they are imposed in the form of a cross, but because of their composition. The ashes are a reminder that we all came from dust, and someday we will return to our origins. Long after the ashes rub off, many folks observe the season of Lent by giving up something, whether it’s liquor or ice cream, symbolic of the sacrifice of Easter. Of late, I have heard of people also willing to take on something positive, and new, for Lent, making it a season of reflecting on generosity, or reconciliation. To me at least, these observances also seem in line with the essence of Easter.
The ashes could be considered akin to the popular saying, YOLO (you only live once). It’s one I’ve recently heard yelled from the top of a cliff as folks jump off, and that I’ve used to try to induce my teenagers to try a new food. I’ve learned it’s appropriate for cliff jumping, but not so much for unknown vegetables, where the only thing it induces is an extreme eye roll.
Whether it’s a holler from a cliff, or a temporary sign of a cross , it’s good, periodically, to reflect on the fact we will someday return to the dust from whence we came, and to consider just how we want to spend our days, whether it’s the next 40 or 400. On this Ash Wednesday, and on those that surely will come, when I next see a smudge I’ll try to lend a hand by acknowledging the Lenten message that each day is a gift, and that we are called to live and to give to our fullest.
Contact Cindy Bargell at firstname.lastname@example.org.