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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

"Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee."
TS Eliot from the poem Ash Wednesday

In our office complex, there is a dry cleaners. It's located beneath the offices, underneath the ground, on parking level one. The cleaners is nothing more than a painted closet next to the mail room. Every day, when I get the mail, I swing around the corner and pass the open door to La Mirada Cleaners. Every day, the small lady who runs the cleaners jerks her head up expecting to see a customer walk through the door. When I pass, I notice her wrinkled forehead, her mop of dark brown hair.

Twice she's come to our office to pick up dirty clothes, and both times I've noticed her eyes. They are the eyes of a woman who is always shrinking back. She walks in with a battered Banana Republic bag for the clothes. She wears old knitted sweaters, and puffy hair bands. She tips her chin down and she slumps her shoulders as if she were about to bow at any moment.

Seeing that worried face, that small stooped body makes me strangely apathetic. In any other setting, I would feel sympathy. I would wonder why she is so shy, so uncertain, but in this building populated by models, celebrities, and savvy business men, she just seems out of place.

Today I left the restroom, and as I closed the door behind me I saw her walking down the hall. I smiled at her and nodded. She gave me a smile that looked more worried than friendly. I noticed a mark on her forehead. At first it looked like shadows, then like a dark Buddhist dot, but as she got closer I saw what it was: ashes in the shape of a cross.

In an instant I saw her kneeling at an altar, the thumb and finger of a priest drawing across her skin. I knew exactly where she had been, and everyone in this building would know too, everyone in this building with its fine lines, clean faces, beautiful clothes and limbs, moving across courtyards, sliding beneath eucalyptus trees, sitting behind big oak desks, and glass doors, glass windows touching the ceiling and letting in light, letting in faces, mouths moving saying, I saw Billy Crystal next door, have your read the new script, they said commercial modeling not high fashion, and the click click click of high heels on marble polished to a smooth gloss.


Blogger Annie Wright said...

How many times and in how many different ways can you tell someone you like their work? Especially when you know your opinion is interpreted as being biased.

I like this. I think I would like this even if I never knew you.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous mel said...

i love this.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

i'm with a.l. wright. i don't know you, nor do you know me, but the contrast you portray of environment, lifestyle, demeaner and social status is magical. way to find the diamond in the rough!

7:33 PM  
Blogger Christin said...

Thanks gals! Not a day goes by when I am not struck by the contrast of the world I work in and the world I've grown up in.
Socio-economic status defines a set of cultures beyond ethinicty or geography.

10:30 PM  

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