Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dies cinerum

The day of ashes. How we looked forward to this day as school children, the day when Lent begins, and the nuns marched us across the yard from school to church where we lined up on our knees at the altar rail and piously dipped our heads while Father Shea marked our foreheads with the ashes of the burnt palms. "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return," he said, which struck me as a bit of a paradox since we were otherwise made to believe that we would live forever.

No matter. Such theological niceties where not as much on my mind as sweet Carmen who looked so adorable besmirched with her own sign of earthy temporality. We trooped out of church with the badge on our foreheads, a visible sign that we belonged to the One True Faith, going so far as to avoid our foreheads in the bath that evening so that the next day a remnant of the ashes remained. Our dirty little secret.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground," says the Bible, echoing many ancient creation myths. We're made of dirt. We may wash our vegetables before we eat them, but the veggies themselves are just recycled dirt, occasionally recycled again through a chicken or cow before we get it. Where do our atoms come from if not from the soil? It is worth noting that "human" and "humus" come from the same ancient Indo-European root, dhghem, meaning "earth."

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. "The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying." The one day of the year when we were allowed to contemplate our one true fate.