Ash Wednesday was a painful day for me when I was in elementary school. Everyone(or so it seemed), classmates and teachers alike, came to school with a black cross of ashes on the forehead. But the comments were what hurt. “Where are your ashes?” “Why don’t you have ashes?” And, believe it or not, from one teacher, “If only you were Catholic.”
In fourth grade I pretended to be sick to avoid the day, and I must have convinced my other because she let me stay home. However, when I tried the same trick in fifth grade, after assuring herself I was fine, she sent me off to school.
When I was in sixth grade, my mother noticed that instead of making any fuss or pretending illness, I was heading out the door. She grabbed me by the arm and turned me so I faced her. There, on my forehead, was a black cross. I had gone down to the coal bin in the cellar and given myself ashes. To this day my memory of the event ends there. I don’t recall if she let me go to school that way or if she made me scrub my forehead.
I do know that about thirty years ago I started going to a local Catholic church for the evening distribution of ashes. The first time I cried at the words, “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” I still find this a very emotional and spiritually enriching experience.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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