Reflections Before Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow.

Most years it catches me off guard a little.  Most years, I welcome it—welcome the solemn reminder of death and mortality into my frantic life.

This year, I feel every inch of the dust that I am.


Grief is a sort of waiting.

I assumed it was a sadness.  And it is, in some forms.  But in others, it’s a sense that life is somehow pending.  A bad thing happened.  One day, a wondrous thing will happen—in some ways, has happened.  But we don’t get to grasp the full manifestation of that yet, and so we make our homes in the interim.

Sometimes, into that waiting, a clawed animal sadness surges up. 

I know God knows that sadness, too.


I decided to make a penitential walk around the block this week and get Lent off on the right foot.

Halfway down one street, mid-prayer, I started laughing in embarrassment because I am really, really not great.  At this august phase of my Christianity I feel that I should have evolved into a better believer than I am but as the years pass my failures seem more transparent.

I really am the worst of sinners, I told God.

The problem, God reminded me, is that there were significant periods of time where you imagined you weren’t.


The other day I threw peanuts at my husband.

Not on purpose.  I was getting a can of peanuts out of the pantry, and in a magnificent act of klutziness that involved me dropping them and trying to catch them and somehow loosening the lid and throwing them, I sprayed an arc of salted peanuts across the entire kitchen.

We listened to them all ping to the floor one by one and stared at each other in shock before we dissolved into laughter.

I picked up the can—undented.  And I examined my hardwood floor, somehow also free of scars. I found myself surprised by this.  Everything seems more fragile lately.  I anticipate wounds, damage, breaking in almost everything now.

But I can still laugh.


I love late-night strolls.

The world feels dark and secret and mine, and everything feels rich with possibility.  I trace this back to college, to late-night drives under starry skies listening to music in a minor key.  It was a heady time, joyful, full of truth and openness—and melancholy, too.  We knew it wouldn’t last forever.  That’s what made it special.

And in my subdivision, pacing around in the cool dark, I listened to a song by a Japanese artist I enjoy.  Most of the song is in Japanese, and it’s a song about loss, but in the end he switches to English:

Since you left we still can’t sleep at night

We’re missing

We’re missing

We’re missing you 

But I wasn’t sad.  Just melancholy.  Feeling everything I can’t have back, and at the same time, the possibility of the right-now, the moments that have been given to me here to live out what God has planned for me.  They won’t last forever.  But they’re here now.

And it’s special.  In spite of everything, this too-brief waiting time, this wisp of vapor, has been made sacred by the love of God.


Dad and I exchange the weather every day.

Of late, the exchanges have grown more exciting, because we’re seeing sun again.  And warmth.  We report our findings: plants budding, birds returning.  We tell each other, with more joy than the situation merits, “I’m outside in just a sweatshirt!”

I have wondered at this, at our joint obsession with spring.  But then I realize that it makes more sense than almost anything else that is happening: we are crawling out of a season of darkness and shadows, and coldness, and sadness.

We are waiting for the light.


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