Ash Wednesday

When I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, many years ago in my early 20s, I managed a cafe that had about 15 employees, almost all of them students at Berkeley like me. It is amazing to me how well I remember their names and their faces, even to this day. I took the responsibility of managing them really seriously, and remember with some horror the one time I did not check up on the morning crew, only to discover later that day they had failed to bake the bread or make the soup. Lunch time that day was disastrous, needless to say. And I really felt it was my fault, for not coming to check in on how things were going; instead I was at home studying for a midterm.

Anyhow, one of the girls working there was named Emilia, she was from Los Angeles. Not one of the suburbs of Los Angeles, but from downtown Los Angeles. She was Hispanic, and very Catholic. She was a good worker, very sweet, and I liked her a lot. So I felt pretty bad one Wednesday when she came into work, and I said to her "what is that thing on your forehead??" She had been to church that morning, and the priest had made the sign of a cross on her forehead with the sacred ashes that give Ash Wednesday its name. I suppose this is a relic from Judaic practices, where a fattened calf was sacrificed, and then the ashes were preserved for medicinal and sacred purposes.

That incident stuck with me, like everything else about those days, and contributed to my sense of the importance of Easter. Anyone who observes Lent is doing something good for their soul, I do believe.


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