It was somewhat weird and unsettling, going out of my way to find someone from my church who I’ve never met before on a street corner I haven’t been to since Lord Knows When, in what is generally referred to as Lakeview but commonly as Boystown, to have this stranger, in the middle of this busy intersection in the middle of rush hour in a gay neighborhood, recite cryptic Middle Eastern poetry at me while he wipes my forehead with his dirty thumb print of ash.
|Newspaper financial ashes – Remsphoto|
It was somewhat unsettling to have to bend down, and stop for just a few seconds in the midst of the bustle. To accept this sign, one vertical swipe and one horizontal one that I have never, ever received before – it is a bit unsettling. This sign of mortality, this badge of identity in a once-persecuted community, touches me and shakes me up way down to the back of my spine.
I know my religion is the majority religion – but I also live in a place where this tradition of marking myself is rarely seen – certainly not by white males. It is the yearly ritual of the “superstitious”, of ethnic minorities who are already branded by the color of their skin. And I rode on the train and people looked at me odd – as if I exploded on my head. And then I recalled that I am a tall, white, curly-haired male with soot etchings on my head. And then I recalled that I couldn’t help but stare at the markings on other passengers just a few minutes earlier.
And it’s all unsettling.
As it should be. I’m used to unsettling things happening to me that are out of my control. I’m used to winging it – and a bit too used to worrying about money and work. But I needed someone or something to touch – physically – my soul. And unnerve it, just so that I may feel that I still have one.
And I do.
And that, remarkably, is very settling.