ASHES: Ash Wednesday By Terry Rainey

Word: Ashes
Word Count 500

Ash Wednesday
By Terry Rainey

We walked in double rows — Martin Flynn on my right, Kevin Kepler behind — across the
blustery cold parking lot from school to OLPS Church. Ash Wednesday bestowed a deeper
contemplation of death and of the 40 days Jesus fasted and wrestled Satan, tempered by the happy thought
that Mass time plus ashes distribution would shorten our day with Sister Mary Xavier (SPC).
At Mass, Father Badassari solemnly lit incense that smelled like my grandparents, saying “During
Lent we disengage ourselves from the purely physical. Man does not live by bread alone. We consume
more satisfying food, spiritual food, through prayer and faith. With such a diet, we express our God-given
potential to its full capacity.” FatherB always used “us/we.” So comforting. When necessary, I hoped
he’d give me last rites. Extreme unction, my favorite sacrament. I loved its creepy sound. After a sinful
life, extreme unction could land someone in a fairly pleasant section of purgatory.
At ashes marking, Kevin jerked his head so that FatherB’s thumb slid and he used more embers.
I smiled. On the way back to class, we ducked into the bathroom, and I redesigned Kevin’s ashes into a
bullseye. As I paused to admire it, SisterX banged open the door and barked “Out of the bathroom!
Now!” Kevin didn’t get to see my artwork.
In class, SisterX said ashes were a visible cross. "Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
Somehow dust equaled sacrifice for Lent, so what to give up for an eternal 40 days was a serious choice.
Sister was giving up football; her Pittsburgh Steelers banner was draped in purple. But I suspected she
was just focusing on the Pirates in spring training. I wanted to give up something that I wouldn’t miss,
but that I’d get credit for, so I’d decided on bread crusts.
Then, surprisingly, X asked what each of us was renouncing for Lent. She started with the smart
side of the room. Brainiac Kathryn Moore was forgoing English, reading more in Latin. SisterX smiled,
then went up and down the rows: dessert, lima beans, chocolate, peanut butter, Marvin Gaye, soda, Froot
Loops, crackers, socks, pizza, hot water, Popsicles, Bonanza, utensils, cupcakes. Hearing this litany of
penitence made me hungry.
SisterX turned towards the challenging section. Martin was giving up two of the Three Stooges.
Sister asked how one gave up 2/3 of the Stooges. By turning the sound off, and just appreciating Curly’s
genius. The girls rolled their eyes.
Kevin was next. He announced he was giving up Playboy magazine. SisterX turned menacing,
almost volcanic. The cinders on her forehead crinkled, creating a third, even more frightening, eyebrow.
She glared at him and only then seemed to notice the bullseye. SisterX took a deep breath. “Thank you,
urchin. Now, I need you, Kevin, to get to the bathroom and clean up the messy mirrors.” He hopped up
so quickly that some ashes floated away from his happy face, his God-given potential at full capacity.

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