This is an edited version of this post, written on Ash Wednesday, 2014.
I am waiting in the church parking lot. Barbara and Bill are returning for the purse Barbara lost in the sanctuary. It was the focus of all our attention as Ash Wednesday worship was beginning, 10 increasingly frantic minutes of these two turning over pew cushions in search of the purse Barbara swears she had when she came in and then resolutely quitting the service to expand the search to the car, the restaurant, the house.
The purse showed itself innocently in a front pew shortly after the sanctuary had emptied. I put away the microphones, cleaned up the little dishes that had held our ashes (remembering to bring one home), turned out the lights, and then scooped up the purse and proceeded to the office, where I called Barbara at home. As soon as I announced myself into the phone, she gasped, “You have my purse! I’ll be there in 20 minutes!” She hung up instantly.
The night is warm and clear and quiet. This is no inconvenience. I am not irritated to be delayed getting home. I am grateful for an unscripted interlude to stare dumbly at passing cars and sing “Come And Fill Our Hearts” to the moon. When Barbara’s determined headlights breakup my reverie, I’m a little sad.
And now the apologetic tale of the purse, the evening’s steps retraced–from Target to Burger King to the church–all told with breathy regret for the disruption to the service. I earnestly assure them that it really had been no disruption at all. Really. Then I excuse myself, wishing the two relieved seekers a good night and climbing back into my car.
Barbara remembers about the ashes.
It is a simple reflex. I grab the smudgy dish on the passenger seat and appear in an instant at Barbara’s driver side window. She only sees me as she begins backing away. She rolls down her window and lowers her head in observation. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Bill leans over from the passenger seat to receive his ashes as well.
And then it’s over. I circle back to my own driver side door and climb inside, calling “Goodnight” as I start the ignition. “You too,” Barbara answers. And then, “We love you.”
Another reflex: “I love you too.”