Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dust Up

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.

No, but I feel like I missed an important ceremony that marks the beginning of Lent.

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.


Ron said...

Rob, it's so ironic that you post about Ash Wednesday because last week I forgot as well. As I was walking down the street that day, I spotted someone with a small black mark on their forehead and thought, "I wonder where they got that mark from?" Then as the day went on, I started seeing more and more people with black marks on their foreheads (Philly is a VERY Catholic city) and then it finally dawned on me, "It is Ash Wednesday!?!" But I was puzzled because I thought Ash Wednesday was either next month or the month after. I know, I should be a shamed of myself having gone to Catholic School for 8 years and forgetting Ash Wednesday. When I was in school, it was so easy to remember all the religious holidays because we had a church connected to our school, so things like Ash Wednesday we were always reminded. Now, however, I'm no longer a practicing Catholic, so I'm out of the loop.

"And I’m hoping that both the Good Lord and my mother will forgive me and give me another chance to get this right."

Oh, I wouldn't worry about it buddy, you're a good soul with a kind heart, so I don't think God will hold it against you that you forgot.

Just say FIVE Hail Mary's and you'll be absolved - HA!

Have a super week, Rob!

Rob K said...

Thank you, Father Ron! I see that Catholic amnesia is contagious and being Catholic we all know that misery loves company!

I'm putting this behind me. Yes, it would've been nice to keep up with the tradition, but it didn't happen this year.

The ceremony is important, but we all know people who are great at going to church, but total failures at being decent.

Take care, buddy, and get your ash to church!

Bijoux said...

Being a Protestant, I've never known when Ash Wednesday is and am even ignorant about Lent. I begin to notice when I go to happy hour on Friday and wonder why all the appetizers are cheese and seafood based!

Jay, Sparking Synapse said...

I'm pretty sure both will forgive you!

It's an interesting tradition. I'd never heard of it before I knew a few Catholics because it didn't exist in the churches I went to (Baptist, United Reformed, C of E, over the years). For those that thrive on tradition, it seems like a good reminder, both that we return to dust, and to stand up for your faith. But it's also interesting that Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent is more thought-provoking this year because you forgot. That's got to count for something. It seems to me that anything which makes us think more deeply on spiritual matters has got to be a good thing.

Rob K said...

Thank you, Jay!

And I think you're right: if my misstep has caused to think about the spiritual life more, then it can't be all bad!

Take care!

Rob K said...


Gosh, you're lucky! You avoided all that spooky stuff I grew up with.

I think I used to be surrounded by fellow Catholics so we all reminded each other of what was coming next.

Not so much anymore. But that's all right. I'll get my ashes next year, God willing.

See you at Happy Hour!

Anonymous said...

Lol I laughed out loud when I read the end of this post! If you forget Christmas you are really living under a rock! Especially in NYC!! Don't be too hard on yourself for missing Ash Wednesday clearly you had good intentions. What did you give up for lent?

Rob K said...

Hey, Shae, thanks so much for believing in my good intentions.

I haven't given much thought to what I'll give up for Lent. I'm trying to improve all year round instead of waiting for a season.

But I think I can remember Christmas!

Take care.

CrystalChick said...

See if we were friends on Facebook you would have seen my Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) post and been totally ready for the next day. ;)
My mom was a Catholic so we'd see the palm fronds draped on a picture and see her with a smear of ash on her forehead, but she didn't raise us that way so we just watched.
I'm ordained with the Universal Life Church, Rob. Long story. Seriously though, it's an online church open to people of all faiths.
So in the name of that.... I say, you are doing just fine. Your mom and God love you.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think guilt is part of the Catholic experience, so at least you have that part of it! I do think the important thing is what's in your heart the other 364 days a year...there are many people who get ashes and avoid meat but have many other things to feel guilty about.

Rob K said...

Excellent point, Stephanie! What's in your heart is more important than what's smeared on your forehead!

Rob K said...

@CrystalChick: Shame on me for not reading your post!

And thank you so much for those lovely words about God and my mother. You had me reaching for the tissues.

Blessings to you and all your loved ones, Mary!