Vanity is universal. We are all vain.

Yes, it is Lent, so I am paying closer attention to where and how I spend my time and resources. Or am I? The siren call to look better and younger is rarely ignored.

When we spoke yesterday, an elderly friend, suffering from stage 4 cancer and the side effects of chemo, complained as bitterly about his hair loss. Hair loss seemed to bother him as much as his revelations about the process of dying.

He said no one would listen to him. So I tried. Maybe “Mmmm” was all I needed to say. But I asked whether he was able to sleep, had a metallic taste in his mouth, and more. I failed to ask whether he was scared to death of death. He is busy being angry. He has not really accepted death as the nearly inevitable outcome of this illness. None of us is good at facing that inevitable outcome. It challenges our credulity. We cannot imagine a world without ourselves in it.

Ash Wednesday is my favorite liturgical day of the year. “You will die,” proclaims the preacher. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” It takes off so much pressure. Dust cannot be accomplished, successful, “purpose-driven,” beautiful, kind, or wealthy. Dust does not interact with other strivers on Twitter or LinkedIn. Dust leaves no legacy. What a relief! It’s the best hall pass ever.

Despite this profound revelation, I found myself taken aback after the Ash Wednesday service when a brief conversation with the kindest, gentlest woman took a strange turn. I did not recognize Amy, so she took off her mask, and reintroduced herself. She looked at me, and pronounced me “so very beautiful.” That was then, and this is now. The lights were dim. I am beyond middle age. I am trying to accept this humbling aging business. I hope that she meant an interior glow shining through.

How are you managing the competition between your interior and exterior glow?

1 thought on “Vanity

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I always love hearing from you.

    Our retirement community had a service on Ash Wednesday – and we were so happy to be together. It is good to see our older members when someone can remember to bring them up. They are beautiful – as long as they are with us. Then we will all go home, and I’m sure there will be no more longing.

    It’s not the dust we will go through, but what we will be transformed into after that.


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