Ash Wednesday in the Intensive Care Unit

Ash Wednesday in the Intensive Care Unit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

No one has to remind us of our dusty
destiny. Here in the ICU, every day
is Ash Wednesday. Some days we reflect
that an awful lot of fluid precedes
our descent into dust—fluids
come and go into the wrong crevices,
the body leaks and oozes
before it dwindles into dryness.

Still, the priest makes his rounds, smudges
comatose foreheads with ashes from the palms
of a distant celebration. How long ago
that we protested this archaic ritual.
Now Ash Wednesday claims its place as the most relevant
day of the church calendar.
Trapped in our failing flesh,
the liturgical year stopped
in the beginning of this season
of penitence. We long to believe
in resurrection, but in this hospital,
we realize that the viruses and bacteria
will inherit the Kingdom of God.

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