On Wednesday morning, shortly before sunrise, Scott Ponsor, Cassi Smith and I walked to the Braddock Road metro stop, set up our sign saying what we were about, and waited…
For about fifteen minutes no one seemed to notice that we were there. Or if they did, they averted their eyes and walked hurriedly by to catch their train.
We smiled and said, “Good morning,” but far more people were interested in greeting the guy at the station handing out the free daily newspaper than us. It was cold and we started to wonder if this endeavor was worth the time and effort.
But then, stepping off the bus, Caroline saw our sign and came rushing over. “Really?” she said. “I can get ashes here? Thank you! Thank you!”
I took some ash with my thumb, made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Caroline choked up, turned her head quickly away, said “Thank you” one more time, and went into the station to begin her day.
Caroline was just the first. Over the course of two hours, nearly 75 people came to receive ashes. There were a handful of members of our church, but most people we had never met before and may never see again. And yet, there was a connection in that brief intimate moment, making the sign of the cross on the forehead of a stranger.
We live in a part of the country where it is difficult to make connections. Commuting to and from work can be lonely business. We’ve learned not to make eye contact; we’ve learned to listen to music or look at our screens as we wait for the train to get moving again.
On Wednesday morning, I think Caroline was grateful for connection – for connection with God on this holy day, but also for connection with others who noticed her, who cared about her, who were willing to reach out to her on her way to work. She and the others we met will not quickly forget this morning.
Neither will we.