Well, seeing as how it is that time of the year, I feel I need to share my very favorite (read: dumbest) story that involves me and Ash Wednesday. It started about 6 years ago, when I began college...
Well, I grew up in rural Wisconsin, as I have mentioned before. My area of the state happens to be rather Protestant (with, of course, the ever present Catholics as well), so I didn't have much exposure to Catholicism. To make my ignorance worse, I was never baptized, confirmed, or involved in any church services (weddings and funerals excluded) since I was 5 years old. You see, growing up on a farm, Sunday mornings meant chores for my parents (and sometimes me), so they didn't take me to church. My mom decided to give my sister and I the choice of going to Sunday School or staying home, so we chose to stay home. Thus began my general ignorance of religious traditions, especially ones that weren't learned in the first 2 years of Sunday school (which was mostly coloring anyway).
Well, my first year in college, I began to notice there were a bunch of people walking around with black smudges on their foreheads. I thought the first couple of people just didn't realize they were there, but upon closer inspection, noticed they mostly resembled crosses. I had no idea what that meant, so I stared perplexedly at most people sporting such markings. This must have made many people uncomfortable, but I was confused and curious (and naive), so I kept right on staring.
I finally finished classes for the day and made my way back to my dorm. I lived on the 10th floor, so I made my way to the elevators. I was joined there by a young lady who lived somewhere high up as well. And, as luck would have it, she had the marks on her face! I finally had my opportunity to corner and confront of those fabled creatures I had been staring at all day! I got in the elevator, hit my button, watcher her hit hers (she was on the 12th floor), and as the doors closed, asked her the burning question on my mind:
"So, what the hell is up with the weird cross on everyone's heads today?"
I was very pleased with myself, but she seemed rather offended at the question. I was confused when she responded with, "It's Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday. It represents *something I don't recall and don't want to look up* about Christ." I responded with a meek "oh" and looked at the light telling me what floor we were on. It read 3.
Needless to say, it was a long seven additional floors.