Today is Ash Wednesday.
I know this because I see people’s foreheads smeared with what my Grandfather Abie called schmutz, or dirt. As in, “wipe the schmutz off your face.”
As a kid, I wanted to be Catholic. All my friends were Christian but it seemed the Catholics had all the fun. Midnight masses, Easter Sunrises, Christmas Trees, and Sunday Hams. And Catechism. Back then, there was no issue holding religious education classes after school, using classrooms.
Once a week, my friends attended these classes, which to me seemed so secret. A gaggle of nuns, dressed in full black habits, their hair tightly bound under starched white wimples, a veil reaching their shoulders, arrived, school supplies and religious icons in oversized totebags. My only exposure to nuns had been The Sound of Music and Sally Field as “The Flying Nun.”
I left to ride the nearly empty school bus home, alone.
The next day, the half-erased chalkboards showed glimpses of what transpired. My friends talked among themselves about what occurred in my absence. Each nun sounded meaner than the next. I felt so left out.
Then there was Lent. A month leading up to this period before Easter, my friends discussed what they were giving up for Lent. I wanted to give something up too but the thought of depriving myself of cookies and ice cream for an entire 40 days seemed rather harsh.
By high school, I no longer wished to be Catholic, though I dated Catholic guys and went to their homes for holiday meals. After school, kids played sports, or went to club meetings, or worked. There were no religious education classes held on the high school premises.
Perhaps I began to identify myself more as a Jew, at least culturally. (My previous post on this topic.)
Yet seeing the ashes today reminded me of what it’s like to be different and want to fit in. And the importance of acceptance and tolerance.