Ash Wednesday Penance

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

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Arriving back to the office after receiving my ashes at 8:15 a.m. mass at my children’s school, the dark oily cross on my forehead reminded my colleague G that she too needed to get her Ash Wednesday ashes as the Lenten season started.  “How was mass?” she asked as we began our workday.  “Fine.  It’s always good to go to the all-school mass when my kids have their all-school mass,” I said, then lamented, “Well, except that I didn’t get my regular pew this morning.”  “You mean, you sit in a particular pew at church?” G inquired.

I laughed.  Of course I did.  But once again, what seemed intuitive to me for so many years was a revelation to someone else.  “Oh, you have to blog about this one,” G said when I explained my usual practice.

The truth is that I don’t like to kneel.  More pointedly, it hurts to kneel after a certain amount of time.  It’s something about the skin on my burned knee, which may be too thin, too physically addled or just too banged up from all the surgeries.  It’s another area where I need to make do and in the case of going to church, it means avoiding the pews with  in the front of the seating bench .  I’ve been doing this so long it doesn’t seem novel  anymore, just routine coping.  To get along, go along.

At St. Josaphat, the church is dark and cavernous, never falling prey to the 1970s “modern” church movement that carpeted so many structures and took away their original details.  Here, the original, beautiful tile floors are intact, as are the original wooden pews with pull-down kneelers in the front of the seating bench in almost all the rows.  As you enter, the church has a wide vertical wide aisle all the way to the altar.  Mid-way through the church another wide aisle cuts horizontally across.  It is here at this intersection that there is a row of pews with no kneelers.  When I go to church, that row becomes my usual spot.  No kneeler, no problem, no attention drawn to me because the people sitting in these rows cannot kneel.

On Ash Wednesday, the all-school mass meant there were 200 some children taking up the first rows of the church; adults found there spots in the back.  With a kneeler to contend with and people on either side of me, I simply did the modified kneel at the appropriate times in the mass — kneeling with the left knee while half-sitting on the edge of the pew so my right knee did not have to bear the weight.

My colleague G found this church practice of mine somewhere between amusing and awkward and odd.  “I wonder how many things you do like that,” she said, “Where you just adapt and don’t think about it anymore.”

I didn’t know the answer.  It’s something I think about now as I try to compile all the pieces of my story.


  1. Anita – you make me blush. Thank you for the compliment. Trust me, if I was in that much pain that blustery day, you would have heard it. One of the fascinating things for me in doing the blog is the level of support and kindness. I should have talked about this years ago, huh? What made me start the blog (which you encouraged) and bring this all to the fore was that after so many years of no one talking about it, least of all me, my parents were the ones who wanted to bring it to light, and I feel their encouragement. By the way, funny works to this day. Whatever our “burns” we can be dragged down or lifted up. I think the quote goes like this, “Circumstances do not define me; they reveal me.”


  2. Anne, you know what I am finding most remarkable about this blog? Is how much I didn’t know about you, or what you went thru and continue to go thru. When we met all those years ago (don’t worry, I won’t list the number), I remember you mentioning the accident once or twice, usually tied to a comment that made us all laugh. And only once do I remember you saying something about your leg being more sensitive to cold as we braved the wind and snow walkng back from lunch on a particularly blustry Chicago day. As I read this blog, I realize you must have been in pain that day and uncomfortable more than we knew. I’ve always known you were funny and obviously accomplished. But through your blog am just starting to understand how really remarkable you are too!


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