It's Lenten time, folks.
Traditionally, Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Ash Wednesday starts Lent, and many church services symbolize this time of sacrifice and prayer by having ashes on their foreheads. Some think it is their religious duty to have those ashes. Surprisingly, it is not. For Catholics, Ash Wednesday isn't even a holy day of obligation (i.e. a day you have to go to Mass). Those ashes do symbolize death and sacrifice. The old symbolism involved sackcloth and ashes, now, an appropriate might involve the ashes created from the process of cremation. I can remark that 10 years ago this month, I saw how much life can be in a pile of ashes- when what was supposed to be a routine ash scattering off the Jacksonville Beach Pier turned into a spiritual experience involving me, my great-uncle Bill Stokes (who died 5 months after that incident), and my great-aunt Gladys Stokes.
My father's final wish was that his ashes would be scattered off the Jacksonville Beach fishing pier he frequented when he was growing up. One time in the 1940s, he was fishing and caught a baby hammerhead shark. We joked 50 years later that the hammerhead's relatives would be looking for him. In late March of 1996, I opened up the plastic box with his ashes. Instead of dropping into the ocean waters below, they flew out of the box like some spirit had been released. As I found out 6 months later during Bill Stokes's ash scattering in Plymouth, MI, this was not a normal occurance.
As far as I know, Gladys Stokes is still well and living outside Myrtle Beach, SC. I haven't heard from her in nearly 5 years due to an ugly family feud that ensued following the death of her oldest daughter (and my father's cousin) Pamala Stokes. I was one of 6 family members that bothered to show up for Pamala's funeral at Tower Hill Presbyterian Church in Red Bank, NJ, in August 2001. But Pamala had a lot of friends, and it was standing room only during her funeral service.
Since Ash Wednesday 2005, my friends have had their own losses to deal with. Jon Koza lost his grandmother a few months ago, and shortly afterwards, his fiancee Dara's grandmother also died. Last week, Diana Pensabene lost her father. Tyrone Griffith lost his 90 year old great-grandfather 5 months ago. Jon and I attended the wake- and despite the sorrow of losing Kinnard Sypher, his family and friends had a very spiritual and uplifting service. It is like Bill Stokes, Pamala Stokes, Mr. Sypher, Mr. Pensabene, and Mrs. Cohen that we will end up eventually. Many are still mourning. But Lent is here to remind us of our pending death, and our renewal in a new life.
And now that this composition is over, I have about an hour to get ready for my usher gig at this afternoon's 4:30PM Mass at St. Pancras Catholic Church in Glendale.