Of Love and Ashes

I. Of Ashes

For us Catholics, yesterday marked the beginning of Lent through the celebration of Ash Wednesday. It’s a big deal here in my country, where majority of the population are practicing Catholics, steeped in tradition and reverence. It marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence, leading to Holy Week and Easter.

Ash Wednesday is celebrated by hearing mass, then we line up to receive a mark of the cross in our foreheads. These crosses are marked using the ashes from the palms used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The palms are collected from the homes belonging in parishes, burnt in a large cauldron and the ashes mixed with Holy Water, making a thick paste.

Let me tell you one thing: Ash Wednesday is supposed to remind us — especially those who think they’re invincible — that from ashes we come from, from ashes we will return. Yes, at the end of the day, it all boils down to us repenting for our sins, dying and our mortal bodies retaining to dust (where we supposedly come from).

I am a good Catholic, don’t get me wrong. I say all my prayers and when things get really sh*tty, I do tend to face my fear by reaching for my rosary — but, don’t you think that we Catholics have plenty of gloom and doom scenarios in our practice of faith? Consider the Old Testament–which in my opinion, is one of the best reads anyone can have–it’s full of stories of death and destruction, of punishments and the need to go to war, kill a first born son or escape the clutches of a tyrannical king. It’s an exciting read actually. And I don’t want to be struck by lighting while I type this, but it’s more action-packed than the New Testament. Oh, I looooove reading the Old Testament — it’s by far included on my list of top reads, along with Jack, JD’s and JK’s books.

I don’t know where this particular myth came from, but when I was young, my mom told me that when the ashen cross placed on your forehead is heavy and dark, it means you got tons of sins that you have to really atone for. That made me pretty paranoid every time it’s Ash Wednesday and the priest or lay minister is putting the cross on my forehead. I keep praying — “please don’t be too dark. please don’t be too dark…” afraid that I will have a heavenly-commissioned billboard on my forehead advertising my sins. It’s like free advertising — as if I am one lighting-away from eternal damnation.

So, when Ash Wednesday rolls around, you can pretty much see everyone with crosses on their foreheads: while they go to the grocery, to the movies or in my office’s case — as employees grapple with the 9 to 5. It’s a tradition and belief that defined the deep roots of faith and Catholism in this country. Yesterday, I saw a police officer directing traffic, with a dark, giant cross on his forehead. My first thought was, “I see that you’ve been bad this year, sir…”

I should really stop listening to my mother’s collection of myths and superstition.

II. Of Love

After the solemnity of Ash Wednesday, comes the madness of Valentine’s Day.

I am sorry, but whoever thought of making the celebration of Valentine’s Day a commercialized holiday should be tied in a very hard chair, then surrounded by teenagers making googly eyes with each other, fed and made to pay overpriced steaks and then forced to watch “Valentine’s Day The Movie” for 24 hours, played on loop.

Yes, it’s another Valentine’s Day-hating freak! Flee while you still can!

While the Hubby and I have been together for 14 years, I can pretty much confidently say that we spent these years without going through the madness of reserving tables, buying overpriced flowers and feasting on heart-shaped chocolates. The reasons are simple, you can indulge in the cheese-fest and blatant displays of affection any other day, without having to deal with the madness of the Day of Hearts. Admit it, you have 365 days to choose from, why concentrate on just one day?

Consider the garish design of Manila malls once February rolls around — available surfaces are festooned with flowers (both fake and real), heart cut outs will be placed on glass panels or even hung from the ceiling, love songs will be on constant loop over the PA systems and if you are really lucky, all merchandises that can be closely associated with the Month of Love will be pushed in full display in shops. The cost of flowers will significantly increase, tables on restaurants will be hard to come by and it will be literally impossible to walk around the mall without seeing full displays of PDA.

In Manila, we get around by riding jeepneys, sharing seat and space with 10 other individuals itching to go home. If you are lucky and it’s Valentine’s Day, you will also be treated to a live show of teeners whispering sweet nothings, stealing kisses and hugs while the old lady beside you keeps clearing her throat, silently admonishing the amorous love birds.

Earlier, I woke up with this placed beside me:

Hubby's homemade Bento

Hubby’s homemade Bento

hotdog (it was shaped like an octopus!!!), coleslaw, marinated tofu, white rice, tamago and fried chicken.

hotdog (it was shaped like an octopus!!!), coleslaw, marinated tofu, white rice, tamago and fried chicken.

Apparently, the hubby slaved away all morning in the kitchen to prepare my favorite meals as his way recognizing Valentine’s Day. The bento surprise also answered why I have been catching him watching “how to make bento” videos on YouTube for the last seven days.

Love, indeed, has a way of manifesting itself.

Whether you are a VDay-hating freak like me or hopelessly love-struck, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. May true and lasting love be yours to keep.

2 thoughts on “Of Love and Ashes

  1. Thanks, Kami. Very sweet. Except you forgot a holiday this week… sort of. Does Phillipines also have a tradition of Carnaval, FAT TUESDAY, and/or Mardi Gras? I’m in the U.S., Chicago area, and it’s not as big here as in some cities, but definitely getting more popular and secularized (though not nearly as much as “SAINT” Valentine’s Day has be de-sanctified).

  2. Pingback: Walking With Francesco In the Ashes – orig. poem by Mark Nielsen « Marking Time

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