Ash Wednesday

Twelve years ago I stood on a gray street in Washington, DC watching men and women in suits hurry to work. We were there to sight-see on our spring break, my college suitemate and I, and that particular morning we had set our feet and faces to visit the Korean and Czech embassies. She was frugal, I was amiable, and as a result we walked miles and miles down the sidewalks and traffic circles and Smithsonian corridors of the city that week.

The first smudge I saw didn’t strike me as particularly odd. It stood out momentarily, the way a dead pixel spots the screen before it fades from one’s consciousness. Then I saw another one. And another. I was a spectator on the streets of the nation’s capital watching forehead after forehead go by, wondering if none of these professionals had remembered to wash their faces that morning, until a dim recollection in my mind shouted that it must be Ash Wednesday.

The intervening years have made me more aware of the significance of this day, and of the Lenten season it heralds. The world is still filled with hurry and endless movement, and I am still, in a way, steering for destinations not prized by others. But I remember how I marveled at the number of marks that morning, at the willingness of so many to bear a visible sign that they were aware of something beyond the rush and routine at hand.

So in spite of life’s inability to slow down, during this or any other year’s Lent, I am searching out pockets of quiet for the next 46 days to follow Christ’s road to the grave. I have no ashen symbol to pique curiosity, but I hope that whatever is written in this time brings the same invitation to be still and ponder, on whatever bustling intersection you stand.

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