Hearts and Ashes

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, love’s arduous and jubilant walk to the cross, to the center of all things, where the horizontal line of what we experience as time and narrative is pierced by the vertical line of Truth. The horizontal line stretching backward and forward farther than the eye can see. The vertical line generated like lightning. The crossing of these lines we call Now. 

The vocabulary of sacrifice can’t help but show up on such a day. We have to look at what slaughter has to do with offering. How can taking the life of another be an offering of my own? It can’t. That precious lamb or bull or child or virgin represents those things we worship more than anything: Security, a future, innocence, power. “Here,” we say, “I’ll give you my prize as proof of how much I fear you. To prove I love you. What’s that you say? You only want me? No. No. No. I’ll have to think about that.” And we walk it all back. How did we get so mixed up?  

I think of my sister’s final Now.  

Cindy woke up, peed, showered, had coffee. She walked the dogs, ate breakfast, dressed, did her hair, put together her lunch, stepped into shoes. The December day was bright and warm. The key went into the ignition. Music played. She put her elbow on the slight ledge where car door meets window, and tipped her head into her hand while waiting for a light to change. She arrived at work, said good morning. At her desk, she thought about what she needed to do to get ready for a trip to Sally’s cabin. And then, with an internal blow near her right temple, her light went out. In the shock, her heart arrested, but was too strong – from walks and gardening and time in the mountains – to stop. 

The EMTs couldn’t let her go. That decision came down to us, her family. 

So here we are. Here I am, braiding and unbraiding the threads of story and loss – a far cry from and resonant echo of letting go – and all tangled up with the language of sacrifice. 

Cindy’s life ended. The wave fell back into the ocean. This did not happen for a reason. She was not taken, stolen, smote, executed, or sacrificed. This is not to say her life had no meaning. And who knows if she offered anything up or what she offered, if she did. So much that isn’t ours to know. 

Here, only, today’s Now. No life is ever completed, and yet everyone is complete in the Mystery.