I attended my first Ash Wednesday service today, and found it to be one of the most profoundly peculiar experiences of my life. It seemed even more cultish than a Mac store, with everyone processing forward to get a black cross smeared right in the middle of their forehead. I watched from the balcony as person after person turned around with their new mark, and was struck anew each and every time. No matter what a person’s face looks like, or what they might be wearing or saying or doing, one seems compelled to look only at that black smudge.
It was inspiring to think of all of those marked people filing out and returning to their place in society, and I wondered what difference it might make if we all lived with a fresh awareness of our own mortality, and a new appreciation of our propensity toward destructiveness. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to go to Target immediately afterward, to see if people acted differently around me, but no one even seemed to notice. Maybe people don’t look at each other anymore.