In the Lectionary

March 2, Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

Some years the message of Ash Wednesday feels more tender than others.

In the weeks before my mom died, I spent a lot of time in the medical district of Rochester, Minnesota, where she was being cared for at the Mayo Clinic. It was, in many ways, a holy time. And it was also exhausting, in every way you can envision. There was a sort of fog that descended upon me, rendering me unable to order succinctly in restaurants, remember details like my address of 15 years when checking into hotels, or cross the street with any efficiency. There should be a sticker or something available to people in such situations that would alert the bartenders and servers, the front desk clerks, the world in general to the situation. Psst: I’m walking through the valley of death. Be gentle with me. Give me some extra time.

The restaurants and businesses in the medical district around Mayo are particularly well versed in dealing with people in those situations, and on more than one occasion I was given care that went beyond the call of duty, without having said a word about what was happening. It was like they just knew. To be fair, they probably did; they’d seen the signs of fatigue and grief and stress before.

On Ash Wednesday, we wear that sign, don’t we? We wear that sign for the world to see, smudged onto our foreheads, that proclaims: we’re dust, and to dust we are returning.