Dressing your Dust
Twice in the last several months I’ve had occasion to tell the tale of the time I stood in front of my late husband’s closet, charged with choosing the clothes in which he’d be buried.
Two days before, this would have been his task.
He’d picked out his own clothes since he was young.
Good Lord, he was still young.
Today it was my task. My absurd job. My surreal chore.
Even this awful request of the funeral director led my mind down paths that should not have been mine. But there I was, standing before that closet while my mind was racing down each of them.
And what difference does it make?
It’s laughable, really, choosing clothes that nothing but the inside of a box will see.
Anyhow, he’ll be cremated, turned back into dust.
Bill won’t be in a coffin for longer than the Memorial Service.
Still….naked, in a coffin?
Somehow that just seems…not right. I can’t for the life of me say why, but it’s not right.
And so there I stood, these thoughts in my mind, these clothes before me, and his body waiting, no choice in the matter, for my selection.
Intake of breath.
If he were here, what would he choose?
Brand new suit?
though he sure looked good in it.
But he was being taken under, and was not the undertaker, I thought. So no suit.
He was not a suit guy. He was the anti-suit guy.
Jeans, then. His favorite jeans.
He was far more organized than I ever will be, so I knew right where to find them.
I kept them perfectly folded as I laid them on the floor.
And hiking boots, of course. Of course hiking boots, still with the dust of the Alps on them.
I set them next to the jeans.
I grinned when I decided on the shirt. I would surely hear it, even all the way from where-ever-he-was, if I didn’t wrap him up in an Ohio State T-Shirt.
“That’s The Ohio State to you,” I could almost hear him say.
Since all the OSU shirts were all his favorites, it took some time to pick the right one, the perfect one for the occasion.
Silly me. Of course it had to be the one emblazoned with TBDBTL.
So jeans, and a TBDBTL t-shirt, and hiking boots.
Is that it? I thought. Anything more?
Something was missing…what was missing….?
His pastoral alb.
He needs his pastoral alb.
And so I reached in to the closet and I found his alb, and I took it, and I held it, and I held it close.
He was so honored to wear that alb.
I took it off the hanger, and I folded it neatly, and placed it on the stack of clothes, and found a bag, and placed his outfit for The Day inside of the bag, and I grabbed the handles, and I walked out the door to bring him his clothes.
Ash Wednesday is next week.
It marks the beginning of spring. That’s what Lent means, in Latin.
It can be a somber time, I suppose.
I know of all the arguments against saying and singing Alleluia on Sundays in Lent.
But as for me, give me the Alleluias.
Every Sunday is an announcement of Easter, after all, of new beginnings, and I firmly believe that it is in the dark that God’s light is most clearly seen…and when we most clearly need to see it.
Just as I say that Holy Saturday is the most honest day, I think Lent is the most honest season: the pivot place between death and life, despair and hope.
It begins with Ash Wednesday, the day of declared dustness.
We are born of dust, and we return to dust.
And that’s just the way it is.
We have no choice about our dustiness.
But we do have choices, in-between.
Like our clothes.
We can choose our clothes.
We can choose what to wear, what to pull on that reveals most fully who we are called to be, that makes it easier to do it and be it.
We can choose the outfits we will slip on, the ones that reveal to all the world, and not just the inside of a box, what our agenda for the day will be.
Sometimes, I think, we reach for something in the closet that isn’t quite right: either the outfit clashes with itself, or the outfit clashes with us.
But when we pull on what’s right, we feel right. When our day is consistent with itself and with ourselves, we feel more than right.
We feel alive.
We are living, breathing, dressed dust, clothed in our outfit for the day.
Oh, Anna, I am reading this with tears in my eyes. I remember your ordinations as if it were yesterday. Your father’s powerful sermon about the tool box with the Word and Sacraments in it. The radiance on your faces.The years of ministry among us in the neighborhood. And then the unbelievable word of his death and Karl’s trauma. . I still have the OSU coffee mug he gave me as we helped you pack at Badger. The symbols have worn off as I used and washed it, but I can’t bear to part with it for what it means to me.
Your message of crosses and victory are so meaningful and I give thanks for all you are in His name. Wear you clothes in celebration of the gift of life we receive in our baptism and life in Him.
Oh, Sally, he had such great affection for you and Fred. We were so honored to know both of you, and to sit at your feet for so many matters of life.
Thank you for these words. I had forgotten that he gave you the mug!
It means more to me than I can say, that you still have it and won’t give away.
Thanks for the smile and the sigh.
Anna, how I remember Bill during his years of internship. And you with your visits to the ville. Also, fondly recalling the times of you and Bill’s wedding. (Even the excitment of the snow storm could not ruin the day.) When I attended the ordination it changed me just like you talking about the changing of clothes. But we all at St. John changed the morning it was announced about Bill’s death and Karl’s injuries. Your “Dressing the Dust” helps one take the journey to Ash Wednesday.
Oh, dear woman, these words are like joy and balm!
Hicksville may have been the most formative event of Bill’s world–and he had many rich ones!
He loved the friendship he had with you so very much, and coveted your wisdom and your humor.
Bill touched so many people in so many ways, and I can only hope that he had at least an inkling how much of a difference he made in people’s lives.
I’m honored to tell you that OUR Pastor Madsen (in williamsville, New York) shared your story with our Ash wednesday congregation last evening and the message was perhaps one of the most powerful I’d experienced – perhaps an even newer outlook on Lent…..and ashes……as Pastor Tim communicated, there are two ways too look at the ashes – with darkness and despair….or with the hope of new life…..thanks to your story, I will forever look and receive these ashes with hope…..may the LORD always bless you……
Excellent piece, Anna. Needed to read your words this afternoon. Fitting for Lent.
D.D. Maurer (www.danthestoryman.com)
I’m glad that they fit your day’s bill, Dan. Peace to you!
I’m reading this again with tears in my eyes. I love all you have become as you have loved for and cared for your children and your faith.
Dearest Sally, you and Fred were so loved by Bill, and are by the kids and me still. Thank you for modeling so much for all of us.