Ash Wednesday

I never know what surprise may await after I depart the BART train at El Cerrito del Norte which I pronounce del Nor-tay, rhymes with café , but I hear some conductors pronounce it del Nor-ty, rhymes with shortie. Many nights there’s a musician playing a saxophone and one evening there was a woman with a pleasant voice singing acapella and accepting donations. I gave her a twenty. That’s as generous as I get.

Recently, every night for a few weeks there were some Girl Scouts behind a table who shouted “Girl Scout cookies. Get your Girl Scout cookies. Five dollars a box.” I bought a couple of boxes of Do-si-dos, the peanut butter sandwich cookies as they were out of my favorites, Caramel de Lites.

One day there several adults standing behind a table, no children or Girl Scouts in sight. They were shouting “Girl Scout cookies. We accept credit cards.” I could swear they were also shouting “Six dollars.” Either way, I thought it was strange that there were no actual Girl Scouts present and there was no way I would offer them a credit card. I was glad to see no one else was either.

So Wednesday, as I went through the turnstile, it was a surprise to hear “Ash Wednesday. Free blessings,” and to see three women in clerical robes each holding a small dish, which turned out to be ashes. I waked right up and said “I’m ready,” and lowered my head and felt a finger on my forehead and her voice saying “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and more, concluding with “Amen” and I said “Amen” and “Thank you,” then hustled to catch my bus.

As I sat on the bus I thought that the ashes to ashes phrase doesn’t sound like what I would call a blessing. A curse? Not that either. I guess it’s just a reminder we come from stardust and won’t walk this earth forever.

When I saw Mary Anne, she looked at me and said “Where did you get that?” meaning the smudge on my forehead and I told her about the women at the BART station. She said “I want some.” So we rubbed our foreheads together like they say Eskimos might do with their noses, and both had smudged foreheads for the evening.

I wanted to know more so I googled the phrase and it looks like it is not from the Bible but from the Book of Common Prayer and is based on some Bible verses. In the Book of Common Prayer, it’s included in the burial service. So it seems the original intention was as a blessing for the/of the dead. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded of our transitory nature on this planet. There’s a limited time that you will be able to enjoy Girl Scout cookies.

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