Ash Wednesday is bleak, as true things often are.
The reminder that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return, calls us to a sober season, and that it usually falls on a gray winter day seems fitting to me. The smudge the priest leaves on my forehead often matches the sky as I walk out of church, and the rightness of that stays with me as the words ring in my ears throughout the 40 days of Lent: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
But where Ash Wednesday usually serves as a pivot between the revelry of the holidays and the solemnity of Lent, there's no real distinction this time. It feels like the entire last year has been one long Ash Wednesday with its constant reminders that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. We are mortal, and our days don't stretch out in front of us ad infinitum. If we didn't know that before Covid-19 and 2020-2021 in general, we've had a million opportunities to learn since. And the great Deep Freeze in Texas for the last few days has provided several more.
This year I'm not spending Ash Wednesday at church or walking around with a smudged forehead: I'm sitting in my house in my pajamas, sometimes with power and heat but often without, reminded of the limits of my capability and influence by statewide power grid failures, boil water orders from the city, and (most immediately) by a recalcitrant pilot light that refuses to stay lit so that I can take a warm shower. Today I know--deeply--that I am dust. I accept the starkness of that truth.
This year it's the second part, the bit about our inevitable return, that catches my attention. I tend to prefer life as a line in forward motion: first this, then that, then the other thing, then the next, until you reach the end. I have an innate resistance to living in circles because I associate going around and around again with failure: ending up back where you started means you made some error you must go back and correct. But Ash Wednesday's reminder that all of life is designed to be a return to where it started challenges that belief.
Maybe this Lent will be a time to focus on returning to things as part of the process of living a richer life: a time to relax into the repetition of necessary tasks, embrace the revolving door of giving and taking, go back and brush the dust off dreams and ideas that were set aside in former days. To stop chasing after "done" and look forward instead to turning the page and starting again. Returning to writing after a time of keeping things close feels like a good place to start.
Maybe this Lent will bring a softening in my resistance to circles and the courage to leave the straight line behind; maybe I will figure out that life in a circle is so much richer and more beautiful than a straight line ever could be.
As bleak as this day is, it still holds its own kind of hope. True things always do.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.