Ashes: Your Not So Typical Ash Wednesday Story
Ashes; Synonymous with most Christians and especially Catholics on Ash Wednesday. The act of literally wearing your faith on your forehead. It’s the marking of the beginning of Lent for Catholics. A sign of our own humanity, need for penance and forgiveness, giving back, and living lives that positively impact others. Digging even deeper is the layer of faith and belief and community. However, this story isn’t just about going and getting ashes out of some Lenten obligation.
For me, the ashes symbolize something so blatant about our own mortality; They are the reminder that one day it will be our last and we will return to dust.. “thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
Personally, Ash Wednesday is a very important day. As a practicing Catholic, it’s not why you might think, although I don’t think I’ve ever missed getting ashes. The day is forever tattoed on my heart… specifically three years ago, Wednesday, February 22nd of 2012, exactly one week before Dad took his last breath and let his faith lead him home.
I’ve said before that one day to really heal, I would be ready to share the entirety of my realization it was going to be the end of Dad’s battle with Leukemia. That day has not arrived. I’ve barely allowed myself the quiet moments to reflect on the power of words, of last words, of watching your siblings say goodbye to their father, of looking someone in the eye, telling them “it’s okay to go,” believing you will meet them again, trusting they are always around you, of saying I love you so powerfully your voice cracks before you even make a sound. No… No... I’m definitely not ready. What I am ready for and the world must be ready for is knowing that you are only promised today. I have the luxury to have all of this time to reflect, but I have today to live and be with those I love.
There are moments in your life that will stand still. February 22nd, 2012 is one of those moments for me, just as was the birth of my niece and the marriage of a best friend. That Wednesday, my Dad and I shared our faith together receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. We could have been watching a baseball game together and I think the day would have as much meaning.
That moment in my life is one that can move mountains, one so simple, yet so powerful, it carries with me every day. At the hospital he was a surgeon for 28 years, the Chaplain came in to bring us ashes. That Chaplain actually lost his words when he walked in and saw it was Dr. Field, a man he’s known for years, even decades, was the patient. You see, those would be his last ashes and my Dad, his wife, the Chaplain and myself prayed together and I think in that moment we all realized what was to come… But I held his hand in love and received our ashes, together. Just as I would high five him at a Sox game, it’s a moment in life you never forget as you knew it would be the last time you would share a certain memory together.
For the two years proceeding, I’ve quietly gone to Ash Wednesday mass and the moment I recieve those ashes I feel that day as if it was yesterday, take it in remembrance, and in my own mortality.
Today is it. It’s not about giving things up and doing penance so I personally feel better. It’s really about LOVE. It’s about giving back everyday. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about humanity. Seriously though…it’s about LIVING. Religious or not, I use Ash Wednesday as a point of reflection to live a full, crazy beautiful life.