This comment comes to me at just the right time.
It’s Ash Wednesday for Christians, the beginning of the reflective season we call Lent. On Ashes day priests smear foreheads and their own with ashes and say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The ashes remind us of our mortality, our dependency on Godde and on other people for our well-being. Humility is being right-sized—not too big or too small. That's what ashes tell us.
Some adults fear that children will fall into panic, start to fear death. Not so. In our parish, kids gather each year for their own time with ashes. They are curious. They want to touch the ashes. They love to know that the ashes are what’s left from the burning of last year’s Palm Sunday palms, the fresh green fronds they snapped and brandished as "swords" or curled up and folded into little palm crosses. I’ve heard statements like, “That’s just what Grampa looked like after he died.” They giggle and it isn’t nervous laughter but rather an oddly joyous explosion of mirth at the very thought of such a reduction: the six-foot plus old man with the ample lap who loved to tell them funny stories is reduced to the size of a small box.
When my father died and his ashes were brought to the church for burial my own children and their cousins wanted to see. They gathered around, peered in jockeying for position. They poked fingers into the blackish-gray softness and wiped it off on a shirt sleeve, their own or someone else’s. “That’s Big G? Wow!” Eyes brightened as they began to remember and talk about their grandfather in life.
That’s the point isn’t it?
I’ve been feeling glum and ash-ish about trying to get my memoir published. Will it die? Is it worth it? Can I afford to self-publish if it comes to that? All my precious, to me, memories are but ashes in the end. Who cares? (I'm not humble; I'm getting too small as if I could fit in the little box.)
Then I click on the email from my friend and read the chaplain's encouraging words. I don't press delete.