Today is Ash Wednesday and you know what that means, right? Yeah, me neither.
Seriously, I’m not Catholic so I don’t understand Ash Wednesday. Whether I understand the day or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is something that happened many moons ago when my lovely wife and I first got married.
Picture this: A young couple walks into a grocery store to pick up a few items. She goes one way while he goes the other. As he walks by this elderly man (he may have been pushing the 80 years mark) who seems to have something on his forehead. The young man gives it a quizzical look and wonders why hasn’t anyone said anything to this gentleman about the dirt on his forehead.
I’m sure many of you can guess where this is going, but let me add a couple of things to this:
The grocery store was in a well to do type of area in Columbia. An area where people generally look down their noses at those who are not like them (and especially those who do not dress or talk like them). I was not a fan of that particular grocery store and I certainly wasn’t a fan of the attitudes that were often found inside. Seriously. There were times I would dress in my rattiest cut-off jean shorts and a t-shirt with all sorts of holes in them and go inside just so I could watch the reactions of all the uppity folks. It was priceless. And fun.
Second, my wife, Cate, had mentioned several times previous to that moment for me to try to be nicer to folks, to try not always looking like I was angry. She had a point. I did always look mad back then, but in my defense, most of the time I didn’t realize it.
Now, back to the story, but try to remember, uppity grocery store and being nice to others as you’d have them be nice to you.
[[Back to the action.]]
The young man stares at the smudge on the older man’s head, still curious about why no one had told him about it. If you like you can picture one of those soap opera men standing there thinking, yet their thoughts are out loud and full of bs.
The young man didn’t quite put his hand to his chin and look at the invisible camera with a quizzical expression. And his thoughts didn’t sound like a bad Adam West voice over. Yet, he did wonder: Why, oh why doesn’t someone tell him about the smudge on his head? Why, oh why did someone even put that smudge on his head? Maybe he rested his forehead on a dirty table. Maybe I should say something. I certainly would want someone to tell me if I had dirt on my face.
And so it was to be that the young man caught up with the older gentleman at the frozen meats section of the store.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he says in his most polite voice. ‘You seem to have some dirt on your forehead.’
At this point, everyone in television land probably knew what would happen next, and they would have been right.
After the gentleman looks to him, the young man reaches up and wipes the smudge off of his forehead.
The young man had done something nice. Nice, for crying out loud! His young wife would be so proud.
The elderly man’s eyes grow wide and his mouth pops open. There was no need to thank the young man. The look of surprise on his older counterpart’s face said all that needed to be said. Yes, the young man had done something nice and had left the older guy speechless…
… until the litany of four letter words explodes from the elderly man’s mouth.
Confusion ensues as the young man backs away, hands out in front of him, not sure what he had done wrong. Several people turn to watch as the older man berates the younger one. Finally, the yelling ends and the young man finds his way back to his lovely wife.
‘I’m never going to be nice to anyone ever again,’ the young man says when he finds her.
He relays the story to her only for her eyes to grow as wide as the elderly man’s and her mouth drops into an O.
‘It’s Ash Wednesday,’ she says.
‘It’s a Catholic thing. It’s the first day of Lent.’
That told the young man very little, to which his wife (who was raised in a Catholic household, though whether they were practicing Catholics was a subject of debate) explains in a little more detail.
‘How was I supposed to know that?’
‘So the guy was mad?’
‘Honey, he lost his religion over it.’
The young man reiterated his original statement to his lovely wife, ‘I am never being nice to anyone ever again.’
The moral to this story is simple: Never wipe a smudge off of anyone’s head. Let them walk around with that ash on their foreheads and let others wonder, why, oh why doesn’t someone wipe that dirt off of his head?
Oh and there may be a reason that some folks are just not nice to others. In the words of Paul Harvey, ‘Now you know the rest of the story.’