Ash Wednesday

I was very fortunate in high school to have, in my junior and senior years, two wonderful English teachers.  They introduced me to Shakespeare, and Donne, and Faulkner, and Tennyson.  And T.S. Eliot.  Especially T.S. Eliot.

Something about Eliot got its hooks into me, and never let go.  It was so complex, like a vast puzzle, but there was something simple and real and profound underneath all of the allusions and references.  I wrote my senior English paper on Eliot's "Four Quartets."  I have no idea what I said in that paper, but it was probably something stupid--who knows anything as a 17 year old?  Nevertheless, I tried.

For Ash Wednesday today, I reread Eliot's "Ash Wednesday."  I was struck by this section at the end of Part I:

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

There is no time machine.  We cannot go back and undo the things we have done.  We can only resolve not to do them again.  But resolving to not repeat our mistakes is not enough.  Being forgiven is not a passive act by the receiver of forgiveness.  The one being forgiven must allow himself or herself to be forgiven, to accept forgiveness.  And part of that process involves letting go of the things that have been done, even if they have been done by us.  It involves a kind of forgetting, of learning "to care, and not to care."

Anyway, thanks Mr. Eliot.  And thanks to Frank Smyth and "Wild" Bill MacGruder.


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