On this Ash Wednesday, my thoughts turn naturally to fire and smoke. Did you know that the ashes smudged on our foreheads come from the burning of Easter palms? I don’t pretend to be familiar with all that goes into the preparation of these ashes, but I picture an enormous conflagration burning white-hot, shriveling green and yellow palms into the black ashes with which we are marked, billowing white smoke surrounding those tending the flames.
Smoke can tell you a lot about a fire. It seems intuitive, but something I never thought about until I became a firefighter’s wife. In my life, and probably yours too, my only contact with smoke was innocuous and annoying at most, like when the wind blows campfire soot and embers toward you, or perhaps a signal that it’s time to get rid of the $10 toaster you bought on sale.
Now, smoke is always bad, in this land where the Rio Grande no longer lives up to its name, and a cigarette butt thrown from a truck window can set flames greedily licking up the wooden stairs to a freeway bridge. Like settlers in the Old West, my husband and his crew scan the horizon, reading smoke signals.
White smoke on the horizon tells them that a knock-down is occurring. Steam and residual smoke from a fire are mixing, and the fire is on its way to being contained. Not surprisingly, black smoke is a harbinger of a poorly contained-fire, likely burning toxic materials, one that is not yet under control. Either way, firefighters see smoke and a curious mix of trepidation and excitement charges through them. This is what they train every day to do.
In the same way, Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of a fire for me. It is a time of change, burning away the old, and each Lent I am filled with a similar mix of trepidation and excitement. When I was a child, it was a time of deprivation: what could I give up, so I could mimic those 40 days in the desert? I did not understand then what I know now. The challenge is not just emulation, but true change. Can we burn away that which makes us toxic? Will the fire that lies within us be enough to leave nothing but the ashes of renewal?
This blog is part of that renewal process for me. The drive for perfection stalls me before I speak, before I write, before I start any new project, as a protection against failure. I am giving up my fear of failure for Lent, and thus I will be posting every day, fighting the urge for perfection in every line, and I’m sure my hands will be shaking before I hit the publish button. And so, on this first day of Lent, I begin this journey and invite you to be a part of building this fire with me.What do you want to set ablaze?