Dust and Ashes
As I was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, dust was perennial on the Saskatchewan prairies. Our farm home was always full of dust. No paved roads meant passing vehicles launched tons of it. The daily regime: constant dusting and cleaning.
In 1947 I remember taking a small break from my sisters and our mud pie play on the east side of the car shed. I wandered south of the shed. Looking at the western horizon, I noticed a huge black menacing shape towering high into the sky. Nonplussed, I returned to our playing.
Awhile later my twenty-some uncle Joe appeared, picked up one sister and disappeared. He reappeared and another sister was gone. Then another one. Finally I was alone. Young and dumb, I was absorbed in my play world.
Then uncle Joe suddenly appeared again, threw his jacket over my head, and picked me up. As he left the lee side of the shed heading to the house I felt the power of the wind and the dust sandpapering my bare legs. A dust storm! Scary.
Sixty six years later, just eight years ago, I celebrated the funeral Mass for one of my rescued playmates, my sister, Vivian. After, the funeral director invited her children and me to the cremation room. I offered a prayer with them.
The director asked her eldest son, Kerry, to push the button to begin the incineration process. Bravely, he did. We left. Later we placed her ashes next to those of her husband’s, Alex, in the columbarium. Ashes. Scary.
At the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, these two memories are foremost in my mind. As the ashes are blessed and then anointed with the words ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’, I think ‘scary’.
But I also feel the mark of the cross on my forehead remembering the promise Jesus made at my baptism, ‘if you suffer and die with me, you will share in my resurrection’, and I remember the feeling of safety in the arms of my uncle Joe in the dust storm.