From the moment you were born, your death has walked beside you.
Though it seldom shows its face, you still feel its empty touch
when fear invades your life, or what you love is lost or inner damage is incurred.
Yet when destiny draws you into these spaces of poverty,
and your heart stays generous until some door opens into the light,
you are quietly befriending your death;
so that you will have no need to fear
when your time comes to turn and leave.
~ John O'Donahue
“From dust you have come, to dust you will return.”
Tenderly, very tenderly I remember imposing ashes on the foreheads of parishioners at Central Congregational. The older and younger folks were the most tender for me. “From dust you have come…” Most were members of the congregation, and most had also along the way become friends. As I looked into their eyes and spoke these ancient words, I was overcome with their preciousness. For many I knew stories of where they’d been, where they were now, where they were excited/afraid of going. Looking on these young faces, I remember silently praying that they would live far beyond my knowing. While looking upon the older ones, I remember wondering if death was waiting close by. So tender. So close. So ancient. So immediate.
Ash Wednesday is the one day each year when we are collectively reminded of our mortality. “From dust we have come, to dust we will return.” These ageless words from the book of Genesis were spoken to our grandmothers’ grandmothers. These words have companioned us season after season, hour after hour.
John’s O'Donohue speaks beautifully to the reality of this companioning, “from the moment we were born....when your time comes to turn and leave." Not so much a fearful place (although there are surely moments for that), and not a naively innocent place (many of us know how much that falls short), but instead words of truth spoken in the light. Somehow a guide and comfort, both. Somehow an acknowledging of what was, is and will forever be.