Ash Wednesday: A Chronicle

6:00 a.m.
The only Mass I could attend today is the 6:45 a.m., because Wednesdays are my busiest days. So I’m awake an hour earlier than usual, half-asleep as I brush my teeth. Eric wanted to attend Mass, too, though I don’t understand why he didn’t back out when I told him the time. Regardless, I’m ready early and have some time before he picks me up.

Earlier in the week, I created a little reading corner in my home office. It’s not much—a basket beside my chair, packed with books, journals, and a rosary; there’s a blanket, too, in the unlikely event that room is cold (I have no control over the radiator). So I did some reading. The sun hasn’t risen yet, though I’m not sure it will today. It’s been dreary lately, and it smells like rain. But the quiet is nice.

6:45 a.m.
Eric is half-asleep in the pew beside me. We arrived early, because I’d expected the first Mass to be the most crowded. I often see ashy foreheads on my morning commute, so I assumed all those commuters came now. But we were of the first people to arrive, before even the organist. There aren’t as many people as I expected, so maybe the busiest service is actually the 8:00.

There are some Sundays that I attend Mass before breakfast, and I’m starving. But each time, when I receive the Host, the hunger subsides a little. I doubt it’s because it has any nutritional value. Today, as I prayed following the Eucharist, I understood that it is sustaining. I haven’t eaten breakfast, but I’m not hungry. Actually, I feel pretty okay.

Now, I’m marked as a sinner and ready to start my 40 days of penance.

11:30 a.m.
I forget about the ashes until I see my reflection. I haven’t seen anyone marked at work yet to commiserate with. For a second I was going to rummage through my desk for a snack, until I remembered I’m fasting.

My co-worker sent me the Catholic Guide to Ashes, a meme I’ve seen several times but it always makes me giggle (this year, I’m the Rorschach). It’s funny how people attend services in droves today to get a smudge of dirt on their heads, some of whom don’t bother with Mass the rest of the year. This is pious, I guess. But I’m not very outward with my beliefs. For me, walking around with the ashes feels like carrying a “Repent and Believe” sign through Times Square. For some, Ash Wednesday is a chance to show everyone how faithful they are. For me, it forces me to be both brave and humble. I don’t feel either right now, but maybe that’s the point.

2:30 p.m.
I have a headache, so I’m on my third cup of herbal tea today.
I didn’t have a lot of time for a lunch break, but found an empty spot in the office to read a few minutes. I recently started Fr. James Martin’s Jesus, where he journeys to Israel to retrace His steps. It makes me want to go back. One day I will.

Overlooking Nazareth

4:30 p.m.
I just stared at my fingernails, wondering where the black could’ve come from. Then I remembered the itch on my forehead. Now, I’m more “The Blob.”

I’m not starving, but I am greatly looking forward to dinner. (We’ll see if that tofu I made last night is any good.)

6:30 p.m.
I was a little loopy walking to the train after work, but I’ve made it home. I’m not sure if this tofu is actually good, or if my body is just excited to absorb its energy.

Fasting is a deceptively simple thing, and maybe one day I’ll stop being nervous going into it. My body is temperamental. Most days, I need to eat every 3–4 hours or I’ll get lightheaded. But today, I was fine. Maybe I actually stayed in-tune with God. Maybe I actually drew on His strength, rather than depend on the comparative lack of mine. Right now, I’m too grateful for this meal to try understanding it. So even though I wasn’t doubled over in hunger like I usually am, this is a good start to the Lenten season. Maybe this year, I’m not supposed to learn how to trust Him—we all know I can do that already, even if I sometimes forget how. Maybe He’s trying to teach me something else.

I have 40 days to figure that out. But for now, I’m really going to enjoy this tofu and veggies.