Kittens, this is a special day.
It’s March. It’s the feast day of St. Albinus.
But, most pertinent to the cats and you and me, it’s Ash Wednesday…and Meteorological Spring.
If you’re anything like me,
I pity you enormously you’re feeling your hard-to-hide humanness these days. You don’t need a prophet, poet or priest to tell you that from dust you came, and to dust you shall return. You feel your fragility. You feel your weakness in the face of problems global and local.
Sam, Meatball and Sweet Pea all get cancer, back to back to backs against the wall.
Kaycee gets returned.
Families plunge into the unknown to escape war without end.
The earth itself aches under our dull feet.
And we, what can we do about it all? We can throw chemo and kisses, money and mercy at the problems. We can, and we will, and that’s good. But at night, staring at the ceiling, we wonder and worry if our dust-and-ashes selves are spinning our wheels, or asleep at the wheel, or under the wheels of a world in need. We can help one cat, we can bandage one wound, we can give one pint of our very blood…but we feel our pinch of ashes blown away by the hugeness of the hurts. We want to drive a spoke into the wheel of injustice, if only we can stop running in circles.
I’m as prone as any do-gooder to be seduced by the urge to SAVE THE PEOPLE ALL THE PEOPLE INCLUDING THE CATS AND THE OCEANS. I can’t shut this off even if I try. The danger is not so much “compassion fatigue” as “heartbreak fatigue,” as one vulnerable cat or person or group cries out after the next, a relentless waterfall of weeping. I feel my privilege and hear “to whom much is given, of her much is required;” I know beyond doubt that I have nothing that I didn’t receive; but my small, dusty hands can’t empty themselves quickly enough to fill all the emptiness.
I’m under no illusion that I can “do it all,” but on the most starless nights I wonder if I am or will or can do anything at all, anything that matters.
Maybe you do, too.
On March 1st, as winter begins to yield and weary pilgrims willingly get smudged with the stuff of death, I hear a still, small reassurance.
My part in the work of love is very, very tiny. Yours may be on a grander stage. (I know you’re reading this, Pope Francis and Desmond Tutu and my sweet sweet husband Marcus Mumford.) Either way, we are called to something larger than we are, at least in part so that we remember our smallness, our dusty desperate dependence.
Our parts are so tiny, so imperfect, like the first crocuses that rarely grow that tall, sometimes barely bloom at all. Still, though, they drill through the ice, just hard-headed enough to emerge with beauty, fully aware that winter may yet stomp them down. They can’t do much, can’t give us much beyond a whisper of color and life while the world is still dead. But what they give is pure gift.
And finally, together, they turn the world back to right. It’s the annual miracle built into the earth.
Be encouraged this Ash Wednesday, kittens. The need is greater than we are. We will not overpower the darkness, not alone. But we don’t labor alone, and we don’t labor in vain. Without Ash Wednesday, without our faces first in the dust, we’d never recognize the miracle of all things new, the gift that comes from beyond us, yet not without us.
So do your part, your priceless, precious pearl of a part, where you are, as you are, as you can, who you are. Together we are a million million crocuses, busting our heads and our hearts against an icefield that is guaranteed to break. Maybe not in your lifetime or mine, but definitely not without our hard-headed, bleeding-heart, dust-and-ashes energies.
March forth. Your love is indispensable.