The First Ash Wednesday I Can Remember
I must have been a freshman or sophomore in high school. Walking around, I noticed that everyone had schmutz all over their face. At first, I thought I was just imagining it, as everyone had broad smiles on their face, as if they had no idea that they were covered in crap from the eyeballs up.
I didn’t know any of these people, at least not well enough to ask them why they had black on their foreheads. So I did what I did during those years of my life; I walked around confused, pondering the mystery of the blackened foreheads.
Finally lunch time came. At this point I had been seeing people with the mysterious schmutz half the day and it was driving me mad. There were even teachers involved in the phenomenon. Every single one would just beam a smile at me as I would awkwardly try not to look at their foreheads. When lunch time came, I’d had enough and asked in my tactful way:
“Why the fuck does everyone have that black shit on their foreheads?”
A friend of mine began explaining the Ash Wednesday tradition to me: On Ash Wednesday, the ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday are rubbed on the foreheads of believers during morning church services. A minor kerfluffle ensued as I flatly refused to believe that anyone would do something so patently stupid.
This is a pretty good summary of my attitude toward religion, to say nothing of my inability to understand most things that seem perfectly normal to other people.
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