“Dad? When are you going to die?”
“Sweets–I’m dying right now.”
“Daddy, you’re not dying!”
“Yes I am. A little bit every day. I’m certainly not growing.”
We were walking to school. I had reminded her that today was Ash Wednesday, and that at the service, ashes would be placed on her forehead as the minister says, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The next steps were quiet ones. Standing at the corner of a busy street, we waited for the traffic to clear. After we crossed, I broke the silence.
“If I’m lucky, I’ll live another fifty, or sixty years. That would be nice, don’t you think? I could watch you and your brother grow up, maybe get married and have kids…” Grandchildren and great granchildren. That would be cool. I felt myself starting to day dream as we walked. I could go with this, for a while. Sweets wasn’t about to wander with me.
“Dad! You’ll be over a hundred years old! That’s too old!”
“Is it? What if I don’t feel a hundred? When I was twenty-five, I would look at people who were thirty. I thought they were so old. Then I turned thirty and I felt like did when I was twenty-five. And you know what?”
“The same thing happened when I turned forty. Isn’t that weird?”
“Yeah. But when you’re a hundred, I’ll be… fifty. That’s really old!”
“Thanks.” I shrugged my shoulders, feigning insult.
“Da-ad. You know what I mean. Besides, you’re not that old, yet.” She smiled. “Do you still feel like you’re twenty-five?”
We’d reached another corner. She checked for passing cars. “I don’t know,” I said. I thought about her question as we crossed the street. “Got it. I feel, thirty-five. And if I’m healthy when I turn a hundred, maybe I’ll still feel this young!” I smiled. I also saw an opportunity for a little teasing. “Hmm… If I feel thirty-five, maybe I should date someone in her thirties? Of course, if she really is in her thirties, she’ll feel like she’s twenty-five. That probably wouldn’t be good. Twenty-five is definitely too young.” I continued rambling until we reached the end of the block.
After we crossed, Sweets looked at me, cocked her head to one side and said, “Dad. You’re crazy.”
“I know. And annoying.”
“Especially when you dance.” We were both grinning. She, was serious. She skipped ahead and waited for me at the next corner. Cross that street and we’d arrive at her school. She checked her bag while she waited for me to catch up.
When I reached her, she asked me, “Do you have my water bottle?”
“Do you mean the one I asked you to put in your bag?”
She looked down, her hand was balled into a fist. “I hate when I do that! I always forget things. Always. Why can’t I remember?”
I wanted to help her reset. Sweets has high standards for herself. Sometimes I think they’re too high. I leaned forward, and put my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself. I can get it. Things like this aren’t a big deal. They happen.”
She kicked the ground with her shoe. “I don’t like it when it does.”
“I know. Hey. I’m going to tell you something else about Lent.” She rolled her eyes, as if on cue. “Tonight the minister might also say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We repent because we don’t always do things the way we’re supposed to. That can be about getting along with your brother, or doing the things your mom and I ask you to–”
“Dad, you really are annoying sometimes.”
“Yeah. I am. Listen, maybe Lent is about accepting that you’re not perfect, and realizing you don’t have to be. Do you want to remember things like your water bottle? Sure. But the idea that you can’t make mistakes? I think that’s the worst sin, ever.”
She reached forward and gave me a hug. “I love you, Daddy.”
I kissed her on the cheek, “I love you too, Sweets. Go inside. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”