Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes to Ashes

One year ago today Kevin and I had to put our dog, Miko to sleep. She was just about to turn 14 years old. We never did know the exact day . . . just that it was around the 20th of February. Some of the time we would get her a birthday gift, usually special dog treats of some kind. But we never did that very consistently. Sometimes I really wish that we had. I suppose it would quell a bit of the guilt that I feel for this and for that -- for not paying her enough attention in those last weeks. I could soothe myself with the fact that, "Well, at least I never let her birthday go by without a celebration." But I cannot. I can't change what has already been done. But I often wish that I could.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and as usual it put me in a very reflective mood. Although, I must say, it is a rarity if I am not overly introspective on any given day. But Ash Wednesday brings an extra-special sort of introspection. I often think about what I need to change about myself -- what I need to do better. The usual conclusion is that I need to change A LOT!

My dad has always performed Ash Wednesday services to mark the beginning of Lent. I feel very lucky for this because I know most Protestant denominations do not recognize the season of Lent very much, more of in passing. And I feel as though you cannot fully appreciate the meaning of Easter, unless you go through a sort of journey through Lent. During our Ash Wednesday services my Dad would always have the portion of the service in which he would place the marks of the cross on our foreheads (or hands if desired) in ashes.

This is done with the ashes of the burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday service. It is to represent that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. The symbolism of this simple activity is rich and full. There are so many things for us to ponder during Lent . . . mortality, the suffering of Christ and what he endured for humanity, our personal faith journeys, compassion, wisdom, and the kindness or lack of with which we treat people. I probably haven't even touched the surface. And everyone is going to approach this differently because everyone is on their own individual faith journey.

When I was little I didn't fully understand the purpose of the ashes; I just thought it was kind of cool, and I'm not sure why. It seemed so interesting to get messy in church! There was something comforting even then about getting the cross of ashes on my forehead. I felt safe. I felt claimed (in a good way). I felt as though I was protected. Today I still carry some of that with me, but now I see the ashes and wonder when I will become part of them. That both upsets me and comforts me. I'm of course not anywhere near ready to die. But when the time comes, I find some solace in knowing that I will be part of the earth. I will be physically tapping into the connections that exist amongst all of God's creation.

Today I find some comfort in thinking that our dear Miko is now part of that. She was buried beneath a tree in the yard of my brother and his family. They very kindly offered to let us keep her there since they have no intention of ever moving. And that way, she would always be laid beside our family. I find comfort in that as well.

The last couple months I have thought about her a lot more again, knowing that the one year anniversary was slowly approaching. It is hard to believe that we have been without her for an entire year. I never knew how I would get through it. But as people say, "Life goes on." The pain is still here, sometimes quietly slumbering deep below, and sometimes loudly parading on the surface. Lately I've had several good cries, remembering just how very much I miss her still. I had the hardest cry a few days ago, while watching an episode of "Celebrity Rehab." The actress Mackenzie Philips suddenly had to go home to have her dog put to sleep. He was blind and diabetic, and the time had come. She sobbed over even thinking about having to say goodbye. I understood what she felt. I knew that pain. It's not just a dog . . . it's a companion. Like her, I have had very close connections to each of my dogs. Losing them is like losing a best friend that knows all your secrets.

In a way, I think part of me was buried with Miko. Just as the birth of my nephew Jakob a couple years ago made me feel a rebirth in other parts of myself. We are all connected. When one passes we feel that loss as a passing of something inside us, reminding us that all things must change; nothing lasts forever. And when new life arrives, we have the honor of being reminded that all things will come again, nothing lasts forever. Life and death is cyclical, just like the ashes. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. To me, that is beautiful. If you think about it, life is a journey and death is just like going home.

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