A cherished photo shows my wife and then-infant daughter receiving ashes at Sacred Heart in downtown Atlanta.
Taken by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Nick Arroyo, the photo ran in the newspaper 36 years ago, although I was an AJC employee.
When I was a fervid Catholic convert, I loved Ash Wednesday, and the priest's statement as he traced the cross with ashes on my forehead: "Remember, man, thou are dust."
I remember walking at lunch hour from the newspaper offices on Marietta Street past the fast-food places on Broad Street to Sacred Heart, with its red-brick exterior and green-tipped dual spires. I often attended noon Mass, joining other downtown workers, some wearing suits and nice dresses, others hardhats, khakis and leather boots. Ash Wednesday was a special day, the beginning of Lent, ending with the beauty of Easter.
Late February-early March was always my favorite time in downtown Atlanta. The light had a special quality that found beauty in even the blandest office towers. The young women bravely wore their spring dresses for the first time, shivering in the chilly wind.
With the ashes smeared on my forehead, I'd walk back to the newspaper, receiving a few looks from co-workers during the afternoon. Riding MARTA home in the afternoon, I'd nod at fellow passengers who exhibited smudges.
Along with many others, I've fallen away from the church. Ash Wednesday remains vital. I glance at the gold-framed newspaper photo from when we were young, and re-read T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday."
On another Ash Wednesday, the sunlight gives the world a vivid clarity. Daffodils bloom, and the cold wind and flawless blue sky illuminate our life's impermanence.