Life as a Fading Flower

Ash Wednesday breaks down our illusion of invincibility

Every year around Ash Wednesday, a hillside near our home in the mountains of Western North Carolina erupts with the yellow of budding daffodils. These are the first of the spring flowers to bloom, and their golden hue stands in stark contrast to the grays and browns of the surrounding winter.

Brilliant as the blossoms are, they are short-lived. In the days after their arrival, the daffodils are windswept by the harsh mountain cold that always lingers longer than we hope. A late frost or snowfall will inevitably cling to the quivering petals, sometimes cutting their display of beauty short. After a few weeks, the flowers that remain shrivel and brown, eventually falling to the ice-hardened earth, frustrating our optimism that warmer days are near.

It is no wonder that Job—a man whose suffering looms large in the biblical narrative—compared the fragility of his fleeting life to that of a delicate flower. Even though he possessed extraordinary wealth, even though he numbered among the righteous, he was vulnerable. He was upright, prudent, and just as susceptible to calamity as anyone else. His possessions were destroyed by fire and warlords, his children were killed in a natural disaster, and his good health was lost to a painful disease. In the wake of these catastrophes, Job fully realized what is excruciatingly true for all of us: our days are windswept, ephemeral, lived in the aftermath of the fall.

It is easy for privileged Americans to feel a sense of control: Our generation has unprecedented access to food, water, shelter, and medical care. Our ability to make choices around what we’ll do for work, who we’ll marry, which communities we’ll join is historically unprecedented.

Meanwhile, the self-help …

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