Snapshots of Ash Wednesday
The Rev. David Peters is currently studying in the Master of the Arts of Religion program at Seminary of the Southwest. David comes to Seminary of the Southwest from the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries of The Episcopal Church.
The teenaged boy dove into the ditch as the bombers came into sight and started releasing their payload on the German town next to the concentration camp. He crouched there with the other prisoners and pressed his body against the side of the ditch closest to the sound of the bombs. Sometimes, in the ditch, he imagined they were riding the subway in New York City, like he had done with his parents and sister four years before the war. Just like the subway riders, the prisoners didn’t look at each other in the ditch.
The boy dug the ditch with the other prisoners during their first weeks in the camp. It used to be deeper, but in the last weeks they had been filling it in with wheelbarrows full of ashes.
The old man lit another cigarette as he stared into the sink where he poured his last bottle of alcohol, 20 years before. He remembered that evening, 20 years ago, when he came home drunk following an afternoon of drinking. His young son was in the kitchen, shuffling in his mother’s high heels. He yelled at the boy and told him to take them off. The boy didn’t, and started shuffling away. “No son of mine runs away from me,” he bellowed as he crossed the room and backhanded him on the side of his head.
The old man remembered the boy as he snuffed his cigarette into the sink’s ashes.
The woman tore the letters in half before she placed them in the fire. She watched them burn. The flames curled the corners, her lover’s words turned black, then disappeared. He had written most of them on his yellow legal pad. Occasionally, there was a card and a few of the letters were written on hotel stationary. The shoebox was all she had of him, now that he had gone back to his wife. When the box was empty, the woman placed it into the fireplace on top of the logs and burning letters.
The next morning the fire had burned itself out and the woman combed her fingers through the cold ashes.
…unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
Isaiah 61:3 (KJV)
The park ranger stared at what remained of her cabin after the fire. Only the stone CCC-built fireplace still stood. She looked around at the stumps of the trees that had shaded the cabin on hot summer afternoons. Not one bird song could be heard. The ranger looked up at the hillside, trying to remember the Latin name she learned during her freshmen year. Phacelia minor? Yes, that’s it.
Phacelia minor, Purple Canterbury Bells, now she remembered her professor saying they bloomed brightest in a forest fire’s ashes.