Jeanette Stokes



Today is Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent, the forty-day period of preparation for Easter. (You remember the formula. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. To find Ash Wednesday, just back up forty days from there.) The word Lent is related to long and also refers the lengthening of the days.

I’ve been watching the light return a little bit each day, especially in the late afternoons, ever since Brigit’s day on the first of February. The night before, I put a blue piece of cloth out on the back steps to collect dew and Brigit’s blessing, and a group of us lit candles in honor of Brigit’s flame the next afternoon.

Spring came early this year. It is only the 22nd of February and we have been daffodils blooming in Durham for two weeks. I don’t usually expect them until the first of March.

Being a Presbyterian and not an Episcopalian, I have a weak connection to the practice of donning ashes on this day. Instead, I’ll keep a blue candle lit for my dear friend Mary Cleary who is undergoing surgery for breast cancer today, and I’ll write.

I used to try to think up things to give up for Lent, like chocolate, but I’ve never been good at deprivation nor found it particularly enriching. Now, I look for disciplines that would be good for me, and potentially good for others, that I can do during this transition from winter into spring. This year, I have promised to write each day during Lent. I write many days, but for the next forty, I’ll make a more concerted effort.

“Give it forty days,” my stepfather used to say whenever anything troubling happened. As a teenager, that length of time, seemed an eternity, but it did not take long for me to appreciate the wisdom of his words. When Easter arrives, forty days hence, Mary will, we trust, have healed from her surgery. If I write even a hundred words a day, that’s 4,000 words between now and April 8.

For today, we carry on, God willing. I, with candle burning and computer keys clacking; you, with or without ashes; and all of us with more light.