I can see it. For the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed the pointed shoots of green poking through last year’s decayed flowers, that littering my garden beds and back porch pots. I look out my windows and see the beginnings of rusty purple gauze lacing the bare branches of trees in the valley below me. Some of my own trees’ branches—those fruit trees that never produce any actual fruit—have become knobby and mauve; broken out with the promise of something new.
And yet, it’s still cold. Last week I watched a baseball game in 28 degrees of chill. Last Friday it snowed through the afternoon, covering (if only for one evening) my blooming daffodils. The rhododendron bushes in my secret garden stay cowered against the cold. Their leaves droop like a puppy’s ears, just he’s caught peeing in the house. The hummus in my garden spaces clumps together. It is hard, cantankerous-looking, grey.
There may be some tiny signs of spring, but they are fragile, to be sure.
Last week Christians around the world entered the season of Lent. Lent begins in the middle of the week with Ash Wednesday. We are made from dust, and to dust we shall return. This is the reminder. This is the sign of the cross on our foreheads.
It’s always been an irony to me that the season of Lent coincides with the season of spring. While all in nature is waking up and shaking off its dust, I am drawing inward, wearing ashes, contemplating my dust-like existence. My nature pulls toward the rhythms of spring. My faith sets my face on the tomb I must go through first.
I went last week to Ash Wednesday service at my church. Because of the baseball game I had that evening, I went to the noon service. This meant for half the day, at least, I was sporting a black powdery cross on my forehead; at lunch with a friend, the grocery store, the baseball game that night (though my stocking cap covered it up).
I was glad for this. I wanted to wear my ashes out and about. It felt like a relief, really. For one day a year, at least, I can walk through my spheres of life exposed. Completely known for what I am—dust. The decaying leaves from last year’s flowers. There, on my forehead, is the truth of all my secret disfigurements: the uncharitable thoughts, my extreme vanity (growing exponentially with age), my backbone formed of steely pride. All drawn out on my forehead. The sign of the cross in the substance of ash.
I didn’t know until this year that the ashes used in the Ash Wednesday service are made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. The celebration turns to mourning. The life becomes the death. The death becomes the mark. And somehow the mark brings freedom. It brings life.
A paradox on my forehead, marking me as a living, breathing paradox, too.
Like the budding trees in spite of cold weather. Or my daffodils blooming in defiance of the snow.
Copyright 2019 by Shari Dragovich