After having a leisurely Saturday lunch, my husband and I headed back to our car in the restaurant parking lot. We had been out of state the previous week and had lots of catch up errands in mind. I was in a hurry to get them done, but my husband slowed me down when he spotted something unusual on the pavement, a heap of ashes filled with nails.
“Somebody’s going to get a flat tire if these stay here,” he said and then bent down to scoop them up. “Let’s just tell the people at the restaurant about this,” I advised; “It’s not our responsibility!” I might have been speaking to air; Tommy ignored my admonition and continued working. I was afraid approaching motorists wouldn’t see his bent figure, so I stood guard over him and wondered aloud how the nails and ashes had gotten on the parking lot of a very busy establishment. “Probably somebody was here for Mardi Gras (several days before) and lit a makeshift fire to warm up during the parades that went past this area.”
“Maybe so,” Tommy agreed, still sifting through the ashes. “They might have burned a palette which would explain the nails in the ashes.” Nails which probably had been there several days considering that many of them were bent as though they’d been run over.
“I bet this nasty little pile has produced several flat tires since Mardi Gras,” I continued to speculate when it finally dawned on me to stop jabbering and to start helping. I went to our vehicle, got some work gloves and a trash bag, and joined Tommy in the clean-up. It took us a while, but we finally finished the job.
As we drove off, I reflected on what had just happened. How many people, I wondered, had seen those nails, had realized the danger they posed, but had just left them there? Had it not been for Tommy, I would have joined their ranks, complaining about a problem but offering no solution. Tommy had looked at it differently, more personally, thinking of nameless individuals who might come to the restaurant only to face trouble later down the road. A college girl who was alone and couldn’t fix a flat. An elderly couple. A young mother with babies in car seats. My heart warmed when I realized the importance of his thoughtfulness and of his good deed, unknown to anyone but God and me.
That’s when I remembered the song we’d sung just a few days earlier at Mass when the Lenten season had begun. “We offer you our failures, we offer you attempts, the gifts not fully given, the dreams not fully dreamt. Give our stumblings direction, give our visions wider view, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.” Suddenly, the trash bag full of nails and ashes took on more meaning, even beauty. It symbolized what the next forty days is supposed to be about. Offering to God our little attempts and our awkward stumblings as we strive to gain a wider view, a view beyond our self-centered, narrow worlds, a wider view that encompasses others and their needs, not just our own. A view that is even willing to clean up somebody else’s mess so others won’t fall into it.
An offering of ashes, an offering for you . . .