After School, Afterlife, and What It All Means on Ash Wednesday
TDeath has been on my mind in the past weeks, as I’ve had four different friends all lose a parent or grandparent. Usually such moments set me thinking on my own mortality or the fact that my parents are getting older. I especially get concerned about my mother, who’s been in poor health my whole life. But in these past weeks, I’ve been haunted by something that happened to me when I was a kindergarten student.
When I was a little boy, I used to cry if a teacher ever threatened to keep me after school. It took a lot of remembering (and a bit of therapy) to uncover why this upset me so much.
My mom had gone into the hospital when I was five or six. I remember being disappointed when she wasn’t there to greet me at the corner when I came home from school. Somehow my sister just wasn’t a fair substitute for Mom. But my Dad reassured me that she was coming back home and she did.
Then one day, after my mom had been home from a recent hospital stay, I walked home from school in a large crowd of other kids. There was a bit of pushing and shoving, and somehow I didn’t see my mom and she didn’t see me as I crossed the street and slipped right passed her. I wondered, “Where could she be?” But I wasn’t worried. Instead, I was excited. Here I was walking home all by myself. Mom was going to be proud. Her boy had walked home all by himself.
My excitement ceased when I got to the apartment door and there was no answer. Again I knocked. Nobody home. Now I wailed and cried. I thought maybe my mom had gone back to the hospital and was very sick, or worse….I thought that she had left me, that it was my fault that she was sick, and that my mom didn’t care about me anymore.
At that moment, for the first time I contemplated the possibility of life without Mom, and it felt excruciating.
To make a long story short, some neighbors found me and walked me back up to the corner where my mom was still waiting for me. We met in an embrace and, although I was mad at her for missing me, some milk and cookies quickly dissipated my anger.
So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday?
It’s like a window on the afterlife. Hell is that state of worry and fear. It’s that feeling of being unable to rest, knowing that you’re separated from someone you love, someone that loves you unconditionally, a mother’s love. It’s the knowledge of never being able to see or feel or know that love again.
Heaven, on the contrary, is the great re-acquaintance. And it’s not just with those we loved in the earthly sense, our mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends who went before us, but our motherly creator as well. The Mother who I feel isn’t paying attention when we need her. The Mother who I want to be proud of me constantly when I secretly know that I don’t live up to all the expectations that she has. The Mother who is always overjoyed at finding me again even when I’m angry with her and filled with fear and sorrow. The Mother who embraces me as her own creation and who never leaves me even if I can’t see her.
his Ash Wednesday, as ashes are administered to the foreheads of many Christians, the words, “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel,” are said by the priest or minister. These words remind me that God is always seeking to re-unite with me, always looking for me in the crowd. Sometimes I just speed on by in my own pride, forgetting about God altogether, concerned only with myself.
Lent is about making peace
with God and with those around me, a re-connecting that leads me to rebirth, growth. In Lent I grow more sensitive toward the hungry when I fast or abstain from meat. I remember that I am someone who has the option of eating or not eating that day.
Lent reminds me that I die a bit more each day. The ashes remind all of us not only of the dust we shall become, but also what we can become; stronger faith-filled people who constantly seek to be reconciled with their creator, to unite with God in the mess of our humanity. Today, I wear that sign of reunion proudly and enjoy the embrace from my motherly creator, even if I’m too busy to see her.