Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hearts Destined for Ash

I've written about Ash Wednesday many times, and Valentine's Day can't be far behind.  But have I ever considered them together?

In some ways I have.  My approach to Ash Wednesday is that we should remember that we're here for a very short time, and we're not put on this earth to make money.  We need to remember what's important, and it's not our retirement accounts.

Are we rich in love?

More important, have we let people know we love them while we're all on this side of the grave?

I'm thinking of an Ash Wednesday conversation that I had a few years ago, where a spin class buddy said she made it her Lenten practice to make sure to give at least one compliment a day.  Maybe my Lenten discipline this year will be to tell at least one person that I love them.  Or better yet, to think of new ways to show my love, to be love incarnate in the world.  Maybe I'll write note cards of encouragement and mail them.

I have spent the last week reading Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone, which is a fitting book for Ash Wednesday.  It looks at love and family relationships and all the ways we can and cannot save each other.  I was pierced by this passage near the end:  "This is the thing I have discovered:  Michael's being gone doesn't mean we stop trying to save him.  The strain is less but it doesn't vanish.  It becomes part of our bewilderment, a kind of activity without motive, which provides its own strange continuity" (p. 352).

This morning I'm struck by how it's a perfect book for Valentine's Day, especially the Valentine's Day of those of us at midlife and beyond.  It's about love and life-long relationships, that burnished love that rarely gets portrayed in movies.

My spouse and I are the kind of people who go out of our way to avoid restaurants on these kinds of days, so we will not go out.  He will go to teach his evening class, and I will go to Ash Wednesday service and smudge a cross made of ashes on the forehead of my fellow worshipers:

Before that, I will have a day of many meetings.  We will also be doing a Valentine's cookie decorating event.  I was buying supplies, and I was struck by this juxtaposition of items on my desk.  Is my desk refusing to commit to a holiday?  Is it simply timeless?

I have been looking at old poems, and I am struck by how many of them deal with these Ash Wednesday themes.  Maybe later today I will read T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" and see what develops.

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