Ash Wednesday. I oversleep so have to race to the church to get ready. All on me. I get out the purple for the table. Take the whole white board and chairs and table away. One important thing left.
I can’t find the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday. I’m scrambling to figure out what else I could do. I’m considering dried out leaves from last Christmas’ poinsettias. Not exactly palms, but still liturgical, no? I’m almost ready to go there when I look in the communion table drawer for my olive oil and lo and behold, there are my palms.
I find my very small decorated metal container and fill it with dried out palms. Take it to the front steps, take a lit piece of paper and add it to the palms. A flame bursts forth, rises up and I watch as it burns. People walking on Amsterdam turn and watch as the pot offers up flames. I wait until the last embers die down down. Then mix in my olive oil.
Almost as soon as I’m done, the people seeking ashes begin. There’s a woman with a child in a carriage, a nanny and then…
Cressida, an actor come in looking for space for a theatrical performance. A couple, who’ve been here before he comes in, he wants ashes. And to play the Beckstein. He has quickly become familiar with our piano.
A steady stream, alone, or in pairs, comes in seeking the ashes. And I acknowledge the community nature of this.My friend Elise has stopped doing this. Feels she’s encouraging an almost superstitious approach to the ashes. As for me, I see the need, acknowledge the need , feel compelled to respond. To me it goes way beyond the once upon a time anti-papist undrerpinnings of my teenage ,years. I acknowledge primal spiritual needs for symbolic actions more than theology or doctrine. Which is why I connect with the Grotowski scions so well .
David S comes in looking for RL and his next assignment.
My ashes are interspersed with conversations. Like Sonny, in to talk about the big picture of his life. It seems Sarge (Keith) is now behind bars. (He'd been looking sketchier and sketchier.
Rachel comes in, upset that the mice have destroyed the stuff in her one cart. I try to explain what the mice she has brought in have cost me. And will continue to. She’s convinced that they were here before. I point out that in 19 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. Never saw mice in my office or scampering across the sanctuary floor. She tells me its only because of the cold weather. I tell her what the exterminators said. With the mice hopping in and out of her cart, I regret ever having granted her permission to bring her cart inside. (The contents of which she then tripled.) I tell her every bit of it, every last bit, must go.Sanitation department. Fire department, its got to go.
She points to the daamge the mice have dome. Actually you're lucky, she says, Look at this. If my cart were not here, the mice would have dome the same thing in your office. You are very lucky.
I think of the exterminators’ estimates and respectfully disagree.
A woman is here very upset that thee are no flamenco classes. I come all the way here from Brooklyn ,she says,three times , they’re never here. I’m not coming back.
I regret being short with Rachel.I invite her in for a conversation. As she describes her younger life on the Upper East side, the skating parties in Central park, the young men and women, I can almost see it. Seems so real. Wish I could see pictures, No, she says, I’ve lost everything…
Tell her I don’t want her on the street. Try to work out solutions. She won’t give up her information, doesn’t want anyone to know who she is despite the fact that random people recognize her from her professorial day.
The last person who arrives, just as I’m wrapping up, is Arcadia. It is a joy…and a privilege…to put the ashes on her forehead. And pray. It’s the fitting way to end the day.
My prayer, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. May God walk with you and sustain you throughout these 40 days so that you might grow to fully understand yourself and be prepared to greet the day of resurrection.
I talk with MArtin’s ballet teacher. He asks me about ashes. I say, It’s about mortality. Facing the inevitable reality of our own death. And coming to know and accept the reality of who we are. He asks why I have no ashes on my own head and I answer that I need a colleague to put them on, not to do for myself.
I'm left wondering how do I understand what happened to Rachel? I wish I could have seen pictures of her as a college student. What happened?
Remember that you are dust.From dust you came and to dust you shall return.