Chapter One, The Man Goes to Church
Minister Friendly . . . The man dropped into church on Ash Wednesday for his annual reminder that he is dust and unto dust he will return only to be told by a feverishly smiling woman-with-ashes that God loves him, or something in that line. She did not tell him to have a nice day, he silently thanked her for that.
He believed God loves him and did not object to being reminded of it. But what about “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return”? He believed also in resurrection, but what about death? It comes first, doesn’t it? Medieval monks kept a skull on the desk before them. As just such a reminder, he presumed.
This wasn’t the man’s first happy-face reminder on Ashes Day. Funeral masses had not involved black vestments for ages, giving way to white ones, which emphasize resurrection. But even more so, he thought, in at least one small ritual, we can stand being reminded of death and putrefaction, “the seriousness of life,” as an old novice mate put it a few months before he died and became an expert on the subject. . . .