Ash Wednesday. We say; “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a day we tangibly remind ourselves of our mortality.
We all need to remember that, right?
When we imposed ashes under the bridge today, I was struck that everyone who asked for ashes deeply, viscerally understood mortality. It was a day of crisis, as are many days in this work. One woman asked for prayers for her daughter who had just lost housing and was struggling with an eating disorder. Another woman’s granddaughter had just died in a car crash. One guy was healing from a broken back and another was considering a visit to the ER for a growing infection. Death is a specter never far away on the streets and people encounter mortality often.
One woman began to sing her sorrows; “We are dying under the bridge in Aberdeen.” She told of death and sorrow, addiction and pain and her song pleaded for the world to take notice of the forgotten folks on the street. Her hoarse voice, her tears—I only wish I could have recorded what she sung.
We all need to hear the words; “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But, under the bridge, people already know that.
The people who forget our common mortality—and by extension our common humanity—are usually those of us in positions of power. When I walked past the police station and city hall today, I thought; “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In situations of oppression, when people begin to lose hope, there is hope in words that remind us that no human person or institution lasts forever. That oppression itself cannot last forever.
I thought of the towering wall running through Palestine, the wall that I just witnessed imprisoning a whole people. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I thought of the great edifices we have built to wealth and greed in this country. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I thought of all the prisons that dot our country, more numerous that colleges in some places, incarcerating our young people and draining hope from poor communities. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This Ash Wednesday, I am thinking of death and of mortality. But I am also imagining prisons and concrete walls and jails and temples of wealth crumbling into the dust. And imagining the poor of the earth triumphant.