I made a real ash of myself last week.
I got caught looking by Ash Wednesday. The day just blew right by me and not only did I forgot to get ashes on my forehead, but I also ate a turkey sandwich for lunch in flagrant violation of the no meat rule.
I can’t believe it. Eight years of Catholic school, a lifelong Christian, observant parents and I still treated one of the most important events of the year like it was just any other hump day.
I had no idea what was going on until the late afternoon when I saw a guy coming out of my gym with the telltale mark on his forehead.
“Hey, brother,” I said, “is today Ash Wednesday?”
He gave me a look that seemed to say, “why, no, schmuck, I like to smear black dust on my forehead just for shits and giggles.”
“Yes,” he said with more than a trace of annoyance.
I still had plenty of time to get my ashes, but by then I had already eaten meat and that took all the value of out going to church for me.
And what makes this all the more frustrating is the fact that I had all kinds of meatless alternatives to choose from in my refrigerator—fish, veggie burgers, and a pile of green peppers.
I tried to shake off my disappointment. Hell, I thought, you’re never going to make the short list for Catholic of the Year even if you dove headfirst into a pile of ashes five stories deep. What’s the big deal?
But this oversight really bothered me. My mother was always so happy when we skipped meat for the day and so I do it to honor her memory as much as I do it to honor God.
Except for this year.
Part of the problem stemmed from being isolated. I was working from home that day after being laid low by a particularly nasty allergy attack, so I didn’t see any other people with their ashes.
…then the Devil Must
And Ash Wednesday came early this year, so I was caught off-guard.
But I don’t want to make excuses. Let’s just say that I plain forgot and leave it at that.
Now I don’t think God is going to strike me down with a lightning bolt for my thoughtless behavior—at least I hope not. And I’m not worried that my old grade school nuns will climb out of their graves and chase me down Broadway jabbing at my keester with their pointers. At least I hope not.
The idea of returning to dust may sound like a downer, but it’s really a reminder to live your life, to reject your old, destructive ways, and believe.
And I actually like wearing ashes. I’m so uptight most days, obsessed with keeping my head down and not being noticed.
But on Ash Wednesday, I proudly walk around town with a cross-shaped blotch on my forehead. I’m glad to stick out, happily displaying my beliefs to the rest of the world.
So now I’ll have to wait until next year. If nothing else, I feel like this screw-up has gotten me thinking more about the meaning and importance of Ash Wednesday. In previous years I may have just gone to church without really thinking about what I was doing.
And I’m hoping that both the Good Lord and my mother will forgive me and give me another chance to get this right.
Meanwhile, I’m going to go to my calendar and draw a big red circle around December 25th.