For the Christian community, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For us Catholics, we have the opportunity to attend Mass and receive ashes on our foreheads to signify an inner repentance. Receiving ashes is an ancient practice that has been going on since the beginning of man. As we receive the ashes we hear, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19) The ashes are a reminder of our sinfulness and and our mortality....we will all die some day.
It dawned on me the other day, probably as I was running at the park, that I really don't need a reminder of my sinfulness and my impending death. Whether you choose to call it "sinfulness," "weaknesses," or "imperfections," I am reminded every day that I am far from being perfect. Every time I break my diet or eat that which I shouldn't, I am reminded of how weak my will is. When I yell at my kids instead of calmly handling an adverse situation, I am reminded of my lack of patience and the ability to feel anger all too easy. Succumbing to petty thoughts and selfishness almost daily, reminds me of how far down I am on the richter scale of perfection.
As far as the ashes being a reminder of my mortality.....I really don't need that either. When you love life as much as I do and are middle age like I am, thoughts of mortality randomly pop into my mind quite often....not morbidly often, just enough to make me shudder at times. Every time a loved one or even an acquaintance of mine dies, I am reminded of my own death and how short our earthly lives truly are. When I am least expecting a thought about death to show up in my reveries, I am always surprised by its visit. I don't have to be sad to think of such things. As a matter of fact, I'm usually not sad when these morbid thoughts prance and dance their ways into my thoughts. It's usually the opposite. I'm happy, grateful, and simply overwhelmed at times by the goodness within my life. I'm also deeply appreciative of the opportunities I have or the dreams and goals I create for myself. Life is exciting, energy filled, and effervescent always tugging at my desires to do it all and to live the fullest.
When thoughts and reminders of death sneak their way into my joyful moments, instead of feeling down and depressed, I more fiercely hold onto the life around me basking in its glory and beauty. It's during those times when my senses are sensitive to every sight, sound, and smell as I soak up everything around me enjoying the most minute bit of life, including the deafening train that roars by, the bald eagle resting on a branch in a nearby tree, or the arch way of tree limbs hanging over the gravel running path. During these moments, nothing is unattractive or meaningless. Life is good. Life is beautiful.