Today I went and got ashes.
I looked Rowena in the eye as she made the smudgy sign of the cross on my forehead, saying , “From dust you came and from dust you shall return.”
I am not a Christian. I lost faith in all that a long time ago, but I must confess I still like a little ritualized discomfort. (I smile remembering all my Lenten “givings up” as a child, some of which were pretty hardcore.)
When I realized today was Ash Wednesday, and Rowena texted that she might be a little late for our meeting because she was distributing ashes at a service at the University (Rowena is an Episcopal priest), I texted her, “Would you put ashes on me if I came??
She replied: “Of course.”
So I went.
Even before going for the ashes, though, I had decided to give up fear for Lent. Not all fear, just a small subset: The fear of writing and sucking at it.
I liked the prospect of the ashes, especially administered by my friend, as the perfect ritualized sealing of my intention.
As I walked home in the biting February wind, my hat covering the blotch of dirt on my forehead, I felt the energy shift in my body, just like I used to feel in all those childhood Lenten years.
We are born of ash and return to ash, that is certain. All we have is the interval between, to live with as much courage and vulnerability as we can muster.
I am going to try to be here every day for the next 40, giving up fear for Lent.