Betty Duffy

Friday, February 24, 2012

Moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, moarte, MOARTE!

It seems like I remember a drinking game where people would put a post-it note on their foreheads bearing the name of a particular public personage, and the other participants in the game would provide clues and characteristics, so that each player could guess whose name they bore on their own foreheads. I'm always reminded of this game, or some version of it, on Ash Wednesday.

One goes up, get the ashes, and even after roughly thirty years of this ritual, I'm still tempted to brush it away before anyone sees it. I'm dust. I'm going to walk around all day long with dust on my face to tell myself, and everyone I encounter today that one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I'm going to die.

And then I look around the Church after Mass, and people are sort of talking in their pews. The school secretary with her richly-marvelous smoker's voice, calling the older church ladies "Hon"--she's going to die. I see it there on her forehead.

It sort of goes without saying that the old folks are going to die: grey hair, wrinkles, stooped carriage--signs that mark the aged with perpetual ashes. Sooner, rather than later.

And my kids genuflecting on their way out of Church, in line with their classmates, each one marked with a reminder of death on their carefree brows. They also will return to dust.

A corpus of future corpses leaving the Church--"I'm Nobody! Who are you?/ Are you--Nobody--too?"* Of course you are. Have a good day! Happy Ash Wednesday (and by that we mean God speed in your practice of total bodily mortification)!

I always look forward to Lent (and Heaven) with a combination of both fear and longing. Won't it be great when I order my life completely towards God? And won't it be terrible giving up all that stuff?

"And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away to find in the very next moment its consolation in the left one."
--Rabindranath Tagore

I leave you with this gentle reminder of how to live in the interim, compliments of the Cubeland Mystic:

*Emily Dickinson


wifemotherexpletive said...

knowing the end of the story keeps my perspective on the cyclical nature of it all... without the death, there isn't the life and so on... i can't focus on one without the other. so the dust is the mark of a beginning, as well as an end.
-don't mean to be simple in the face of the death chanting... just find it hard to focus solely on the one.

Kimberlie said...

I find comfort in those words "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Like you, I walk around that day feeling like, "I am nobody..." because most days, I walk around feeling like the world revolves around me and is all about me. It's good to be humbled at least once a year (though my whole life seems to be a humbling experience - why can't everyone see my brilliance and do exactly as I say?).

Like you, I approach Lent with both fear and joy. I'm having a rougher start to Lent this year but I know it's going to be incredible (and humbling)!

Rebekka said...

Love, love, love that quote - never seen it before. So soothing for existential angst.

Julia said...

You MUST read Amy Welborn's new book, Wish You Were Here. It's so, so good.

Of course, here in the heathen city I tend to view Ash Wednesday as the day people 'fess up that they're Catholic, even in just an A&P way. It's very heartening to walk down the street Christian-spotting ("Oooh! There's one! Ah! -- and another one!"). Makes one feel less alone.

Jus said...

love the lenten nod eastward ;)

cubeland mystic said...

Even the little ones. It reminds me of one of the disordered aspects about the culture of death. Couples waiting till they are nearly 40 to start having families.

By that time you see the first signs of your mortality. You're bringing into the world a little person who wants to play when you want your afternoon nap.

After mentioning my age and because of that I was not so keen to take on certain challenges, I recall a dude in his late 30's told me that the 40's were the new 20's. Ever hear that saying? He said that a few months before spending the weekend in the hospital with a heart problem.

Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die.

JMB said...

A dear friend and neighbor perished on 9/11 and on his Mass card (which I have taped to my vanity) is this quote from Tagore:

"Death is not extinguishing the light; It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come".

Yesterday my husband took the kids in to the memorial and he took a picture of Dave's name on the wall. Tagore and Dave will always be connected in my mind.

BettyDuffy said...

C.M. I've heard that the forties are the new twenties, but I don't buy it.