I’ve mentioned here before that I love hospitals. To most, that makes me crazy. One of the reasons I’m comfortable with hospitals is that I like to be reminded of our inherent frailty.
In the middle of bustling cities filled with too-busy people, there are hospitals filled with people like us all who are forced to slow down and have silent conversations with their own bodies.
It’s Ash Wednesday. It’s a strange day in the Church that most churchgoers are often uncomfortable with. Those who observe Ash Wednesday walk around with black smudges on their foreheads for a day. The ashes, a sign of death, come from the same palm leaves that we celebrated life with last Palm Sunday.
With Ash Wednesday, celebration quiets down and transforms into penitence. Last year’s lively adoration burns down into the ashes that remind us of our own mortality.
My cerebral palsy has given me weak muscles, bad balance, an unsteady gate, and a startle reflex that is completely out of control. Throughout the years, my cerebral palsy has embarrassed me. It has sidelined me when I wanted nothing else than to be on the field with all the others. My cerebral palsy has disappointed me. Sometimes I wonder what life may have been like if the happenstance that is cerebral palsy hadn’t happened to me. Would I be taller, more athletic? I would hope I’d be more steady on my feet–solid, even. More outgoing? Maybe.
But there are many ways in which I am grateful for having my disability. My cerebral palsy grounds me. It gives me an appreciation for the solidness of the ground beneath me and the people around me. It has taught me to rely on others in a way I think we were all meant to anyway, but are often too proud or stubborn to.
My cerebral palsy has taught me about strength in the midst of weakness. Joy in the middle of frustration. Wholeness in the midst of brokenness. Humor in the face of too-big obstacles. And bravery and peace in the formidable presence of fear, doubt, and even death.
It took me a while to grow comfortable with the message of Ash Wednesday. Why invite a reminder of our own mortality into these vibrant lives of ours? Why contemplate death and frailty when just weeks from now, we can wave our healthy palm branches in a celebration of hope when life wins out over death–when light overcomes darkness every single time?
Ash Wednesday reminds me that often we live our lives in the tension. In between the tension of joy and fear, wholeness and brokenness, health and sickness, life and death, vibrant green palm branches and the ashes of them.
I’ve found on this walk towards wholeness that confronting the brokenness I have felt all these years is just as important as celebrating the wholeness I now know of and hope for more of in the rest of my walk down this path.
Welcome to the tension. We may come from frailty and darkness, but there is strength and light up ahead. Walk with me.