by Jim Fitzmorris
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a great system reboot.
After two weeks of practically crashing its entire emotional infrastructure, The City of New Orleans shuts down, goes dark and takes over 40 days to flicker back to life.
And that process begins by covering the entire city in a coat of ash.
After the garbage trucks savagely sweep the detritus and the police not-so-gently jostle the lingerers, it is at that point the faithful, the occasionally observant, and temporarily repentant stand in line to approach a thumb that will press into their forehead. And what that thumb inscribes reminds those congregants of the last part of the phrase that begins, “eat, drink, and be merry…”
Yes, I know those ashes are from last year’s Palm Sunday, but I have always seen them as the metaphorical equivalent of the flesh burned off in the revelry of the fattest of Tuesdays.
It is a quiet, mournful reminder that there is no escape from our sins except by claiming their ownership.
But there is something joyful contained in the message of imprinted dust as well.
For you see, the wild ride from Carnival to Dies Cinerum speaks to what is unique about one of this country’s most Catholic cities. There are few communities that publicly articulate the reality of “no celebration without suffering” the way New Orleans does.
To put it more directly, you don’t get the party without the sadness. And if you try, you end up in a place called N’Awlins where the party is perpetual, but Mardi Gras becomes nothing more than an excuse to puke on a doorstep or relieve oneself on a neutral ground. It is merriment without meaning, a cacophony rather than a song, and as foolish an action as Prince Prospero’s oblivious Masque of The Red Death.
Ash Wednesday happens in New Orleans.
And that is a place where we are told, “fast, pray, and repent…
For tomorrow you live."