To Dust We Shall Return

We're the same. And would do well to treat one another accordingly.

We’re the same. And would do well to treat one another accordingly.

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea

All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

“Dust in the Wind” – Kansas

The vanity license plate on the little red two-door read: “KRISTI.”

I glanced over to check out Kristi as I passed the car on my morning commute. Instead of Kristi, I saw an older guy driving what presumably is his wife or girlfriend or daughter’s car.

Something about it struck me as funny. I laughed out loud. I laughed out loud a lot.

That guy. Driving around. In that car. With that license plate. Kristi.

Hahahahahaha!

It’s because I’m an asshole and think things like that are hilarious.

When I was in first grade—the grade my son will be in next year, Oh, man—I walked in the bathroom this one time and there were two second graders in there.

“Hey! Will you pick up these paper towels for us and throw them away?”

Always eager to please: “Sure!”

And I picked up the wet paper towels and threw them away.

The two boys laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Hahaha! We peed on those! You just touched our pee!”

Then they left the bathroom.

If I had been cooler and less of a chicken-shit, I would have picked up the pee towels and cleaned both of their faces with them. But I don’t really do bad-ass things like that. And I certainly didn’t when I was 6.

That incident represents one of the only times in my entire life I can remember anyone being “mean” to me.

While totally disgusting, it is kind of hilarious.

“Wait. You peed on those towels and convinced another little kid to touch them!?!?”

Heck, I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.

Everyone has moments where their friends or family members or total strangers make them feel bad. I’ve been very blessed to not have very many of those.

It’s in large part due to the fact that I work very hard not to hurt people’s feelings, myself. I would NEVER make fun of someone to their face, unless we were very close and I was confident they knew it was in jest and understood they were among my favorite people. Guys who are friends do this with one another a lot.

But behind someone’s back? I seriously do make fun of people all the time. For cheap laughs.

It’s kind of sick, I guess.

Like the guy in the “Kristi” car.

Like wannabe professional wrestlers.

Like other kids in school.

Two eighth-grade classes from two different Catholic schools in neighboring towns combined to make up my freshman high school class.

Our class doubled in size from junior high to high school.

That meant there were a bunch of new people I’d never met before. It was still a small class relative to what most American students are accustomed to (I graduated with about 75 kids), so it didn’t take long to get to know everyone.

One of the girls in our class (who was very nice and liked by pretty much everyone) had a large mole on one of her eyebrows near where her forehead met the bridge of her nose.

Because we were Catholic—and total dicks—a bunch of boys in our class nicknamed her “Ash Wednesday.” I thought it was hilarious because I’m not a very nice person.

She eventually had the mole removed. I hope that made her feel better and less self-conscious. She eventually won a large lottery jackpot with her husband, and I hope she is living happily ever after with him and her children.

We called her “Ash Wednesday.”

*shakes head*

There was another girl in school, too.

We called her Unga Bunga. Like the words a caveman might say: “Unga Bunga!”

It wasn’t very nice, either. But it was very funny.

Her last name had the prefix “Unga-” and combined with Crood-ish looks, it made the Unga-Bunga nickname an absolute winner.

I think about those little moments sometimes.

I wonder whether those people think about them, too. Whether they feel bad when they do think about them. Like how I feel when I think about picking up peed-on paper towels. Except maybe a lot worse. 

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Today is Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar. Traditionally, Catholics attend mass and a priest or someone else will use ashes to draw a cross (which generally looks like a huge black smudge) on our foreheads and says: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It’s a good reminder.

That we’re all made from the same stuff.

The same stuff that makes up that tree over there.

The same stuff that makes up the fish in the ocean.

The same stuff that makes up the stones on the ground.

And all those plants.

And all those animals.

And all those people.

Connected. Built by the same materials. Powered by the same fuel regardless of what we choose to believe—both physically and spiritually.

There’s something beautiful about identifying those connections. Those commonalities.

It breaks down the barriers in our lives.

All the bullshit we use to divide us. To fuel the senseless hatred and bigotry.

Social cliques.

Politics.

Religion.

Race.

Sexual orientation.

Geography.

Class warfare.

Sometimes I laugh at people. Like the guy in the “Kristi” car. Or “Ash Wednesday.” Or “Unga Bunga.”

I hope I can still be a kind person even though I do that.

And even if I can’t be, I hope I can instill thoughtfulness and kindness into my son. And perhaps the grace to handle any unkindness eventually directed his way.

We’re the same. You and me. And that person over there. And that other person over there. And that person on TV. And that TV. And the furniture you’re sitting on while watching that TV.

We’re all built from the same stuff.

How much better would we all treat one another if we never forgot that?

Don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind

Everything is dust in the wind

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65 thoughts on “To Dust We Shall Return

  1. knace says:

    Not a Catholic, but the “ash” on the forehead IS a good reminder, as is giving something up for Lent, in my humble non religious opinion.
    And I watched Happy last night- good stuff! Being kind does make us happy. This post reminded me of the segment where the man was speaking to the junior high kids. One of many spots where I found myself tearing up. Thanks for the recommendation. =)

    • Matt says:

      You watched it on account of me!? You’re the best, K.

      Thank you. I’m glad you found it worthwhile.

      I don’t think it’s the best film I’ve ever seen. But I thought it did a nice job of covering a very important topic.

      And yes. And yes, again.

      The pomp and circumstance can make people who don’t like organized religion uncomfortable. I can appreciate that. But the lessons?

      They’re important ones.

  2. You really are a nice person Matt! I believe it’s very important to remember that we are really made of the same material… all of us… and we are more alike than we are different.
    I always enjoy reading your posts! Have a great day

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for taking time to say something so nice. I really do want to be decent to people. I hope in the final evaluation, I am that. I hope we all are.

  3. Ley says:

    I never was able to get someone else to pick up my peed on towels in school, and I can say that I never picked anyone else’s peed on towels. However, I got the whole school using my name much like you did to that Unga-Bunga girl. Frank the Pank, Need a Hanky Frankie? Stank Frank, Rank Frank. It’s to the point now that I really hate my name. I hate my name so much that I would rather be known by an internet handle than be called by my first name. It’s even so bad that my wife has called me by my first name to get my attention, screamed it even and wasn’t able to get my attention. Then she screamed Ley, and I was all hers.

    While I know I have done some mean and cruel things in my life, I can reflect back on it and ask for forgiveness. I doubt I will get it for some things, I believe I should for others. I wouldn’t be able to forgive the schools, for there were many since I am a military brat, all those kids, all those years, and now as an adult to have a name that is loathsome.

    If we as children knew what we were doing and how it would affect us years down the road, I doubt we would be doing a third of the things we did.

    I agree that we are all the same, and divide ourselves into our own little worlds. Into our own little cliques. Our own little piece of hell and heaven. But we don’t seem to want to be the same, which I think is a far worse crime than self segregation. We don’t want to be thought of as being the same as everyone else. We seem to need to be different, to be better, to be anything but the same as the people we are stuck in the middle with.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for sharing that.

      I believe in individualism. And supporting people with the drive to be better than average. Career wise. Education wise. And whatever else.

      But from a basic love, kindness and decency standpoint. Everyone deserves the exact same amount of respect.

      Appreciate your time, sir. A lot.

  4. gluestickmum says:

    Although we’re all going to turn to dust, I hope the kids who were mean turn to dust first.
    …Although if the nice kids go first, the mean ones have to turn up at the funerals and be nice about them.
    Either way, I like to think the nice kids win.

  5. My mother, long before she had me, taught religious ed classes, and she actually incorporated Kansas’ hit into the class. She didn’t care and shrugged it off if the Catholic admins didn’t approve. The song is definitely meaningful in may regards.

    Great post, man!

  6. garden2day says:

    We are all the same–(love that song). We have too many barriers that we allow to divide us. I try to step in the shoes of others and see what they are going through…probably because I have had tough times along the way..been judged too much and the death thing plus a few others. Great reminder as Lent begins. :)

  7. maybe, as we teach these lessons to our children – we can take it a step further.

    “See that Kid there?…and there?….and even the ones on TV? – yeah – every single person has more value than any other thing in the world. More valuable than that chair, your favorite game, … even money – Because every single person has a soul. People are set apart from things….higher than things. If we use our powers to hurt this chair, the damage is only physical but to hurt another person, we hurt their spirit. Do you know how to repair a broken spirit? a broken heart? No? Then remember that when you feel the urge to do damage to another person.”

    good stuff, Matt.
    is it in your plan to go to Mass today? – – – like a good Catholic? ;-)

  8. A late friend of mine, he was Native American, always used to say:

    “Each of us is contributing a unique part to the sacred circle. If one of these parts was missing, the circle would not be complete.”

    It was his way of saying that we are all equal. I agree with him. And with you, too, Matt.

    Thank you for this beautiful post and for reminding me of one of my favourite songs since childhood.

    Here is a nice unplugged version, btw:

    Much love,
    Steffi

    Oh, p.s.: “Happy” is waiting on my husband’s computer to be watched by us during the next 30 days. ;)

  9. suzjones says:

    We must share the same sense of humour Matt. Nobody gets my sense of humour. I find it in the weirdest places (like the guy driving Kristi’s car). You know it would have been funnier if the car had been pink. :P
    But I get what you are saying. It’s okay to laugh at things and situations but not at people (unless they are people who get that you’re not being cruel).
    As to school – what can I say? All children have the capacity for hurting others without meaning to. Bit like life really isn’t it?
    Take care Matt. You’re a good person.

  10. larebe says:

    Matt,

    The fact that you can laugh at what those kids did to you is what makes you such a good guy. It’s the ones that don’t see the funny side of things that seriously worry me..

    I have to thank you for all the musical references. Thanks to you I have found new tunes and rediscovered old ones.. my Spotify playlist is that bit richer in sounds thanks to you!!

  11. Today’s post was great. I think most people (if they’re being honest) were like that as a kid, then winced about it while secretly smiling as an adult. Sometimes I wonder about the Ash Wednesdays of the world. Did their childhood make them a strong person? Or leave them feeling insecure even now, years later? Wonderful food for thought.

    • Matt says:

      It makes me sad when I think about some of those very things. Yet old friends and I will sit around keeled over laughing at things that happened like that in high school. No avoiding the hypocrisy for me. *shrug*

      I’m so glad you read and said hi. Thank you so much.

  12. Lovely. I’m far too busy this week and feeling disengaged from the liturgical season. This managed to reconnect me to the significance of the day.

  13. That’s not being an asshole, just human. We do have a natural propensity for being mean, even the best of us. :p but yes, the lesson you’ve elaborated is definitely one we would do good to remember. Good one, mate. Cheers! :)

  14. Ugh, normally I love to read comments (partly because they’re interesting but partly so I am not redundantly saying what others say) but you always have so many!! How does a “not nice person” like yourself get liked by soooooo many readers? ;-) okay, seriously now – – aside from you quoting my favorite Kansas song, this post was heartwarming for me. Why? Because I have recently had two people (two separate people) find me on Facebook and make amends for something cruel they did to me in grade school. And both started with saying, “I bet you don’t remember this but it weighs on my mind….” Guess what. I remember perfectly. And it meant so much that they did that after all these years. This is not a hint for you, btw! Anyhow, you always come up with the best blogging topics. I’m drawn here like a moth to a lamp. You enlighten me.

    ps. Your Hair post inspired my post today.
    pps. My ex is now following you (due to my insistence) “Ron Lewis”

    • Matt says:

      There are entirely too many nice things here. I’m not even sure how to respond.

      There are a lot of very nice people who engage with these posts. I’m grateful for each and every one.

      Side note: As I understand it, the generally kind and friendly tone of the comments will take a dramatic shift if I’m ever writing to people outside the WordPress bubble. As I understand it, that’s when people will really start to call me names and tell me what a suck-ass person and writer I am.

      So, that’ll be fun.

      Thank you for liking this stuff, Stephanie. I really appreciate it. And I love the anecdote about people from your past apologizing for things from long ago.

      Now you can take them off your “People to Kill” list! (Steve Buscemi/Billy Madison reference)

      Thank you for thinking this stuff matters. I appreciate it very much.

      It’s amazing that people care.

      So, wait. You encouraged your ex to follow? And he did?

      He’s so thoughtful, unselfish and responsible that he would do that for you?

      That’s entirely none of my business. Just thought I’d ask. :)

      • We are very good friends. It works so much better that way. (we have young-ins too)

      • Matt says:

        I suppose it does work better that way. You should not be awake! Just like me. Hope you have a great day, Stephanie.

      • This is early – – tell me that at 4:15 am. Well, you can’t – – you’ll be out. Insomnia sucks.

      • Ron Lewis says:

        Hi Matt. I am Stephanie’s ex, and I just started reading your blogs, thanks to Stephanie. I am enjoying what you have to say, and I can totally relate to most of it! I was pretty cruel and basically a jerk to a particular girl in grade school, and it has actually haunted me for all of these years, and I’m 61 now! I recently tried to find her on Classmates, LinkedIn, Zabasearch, and Facebook because I wanted to apologize to her too, but I couldn’t find her. I’m sure she still remembers, and I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to tell her I’m sorry. At any rate, keep up the great work, and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

        Thanks!

        Ron

      • Matt says:

        This is really funny to me. But I don’t my amusement to:

        A. Take away from my sincere appreciation of you reading, or

        B. Make light of your desire to apologize to someone from your past. I don’t know if you write. But if you do? That’s a small journey I would really like to read.

        Ron, sir. Thank you for reading. It’s wonderful to see how friendly and cooperative your relationship is with your former spouse.

        As you might imagine, I would love to achieve that very thing.

        Thank you so much for saying hi.

      • Ron Lewis says:

        Hi Matt,

        This blogging world is entirely new to me, and I just wrote my first blog a couple of days ago. The topic is with respect to my not-so-pleasant experience with the “Affordable” Care Act (ACA). Confidentially, I think your blogs will probably be a lot more humorous. ;-)

        Stephanie and I were not always so friendly, especially in the beginning of our separation-divorce when we were both stressed and “things” were being sorted out, etc.

        Like most married couples, we still have our occasional ups and downs, but for the most part, we are still friends (most of the time), especially when she is away and needs me to take her Shiatsu (with the fluorescent pink leash!) for a walk, etc. ;-). Like any relationship, it’s a continual “work in progress.”

        Nice “talking” with you, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  15. Wait a sec?? Oh! I see what I did! I accidentally glanced at the number of comments on your Loyal post (Hair) from the other day and saw 99! In that case, I’m gonna read your comments here BEFORE they get to be 99 as well!!

  16. Thank you Matt.

    Thank you Steffi.

    Thank you Lil’ Miss M.

    For the reminder to laugh, forgive, keep going.

    For the music link to listen and read.

    For your particular humor.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Dorothy. For always being part of the conversation. For caring about yourself and others.

      You care about making our collective lives the best they can possibly be. Not sure anything is more important than that.

      • You’re welcome. Thank you, that’s a gift I’m grateful for, to know the effect of my actions reflect the best of my intentions.

        Now I’m off to read your post of the day :)

    • You are so sweet. Do you give classes in Gratitude?

      • Matt says:

        Ha! Me “teach.” You’re so funny!

      • Ah Thanks, I haven’t graduated yet, and while I get good grades on the tests, I’m still a bit of a nuisance on the playground and often find myself in the Dean’s office, but I’ll get there, eventually, and you saw me there in that moment, so that’s a lovely thing I’ll appreciate.

  17. nights7 says:

    Sometimes kids are mean…and sometimes mean is funny. The peed on paper towels, that’s just funny (and obviously mean but maybe they didn’t actually pee on it and only told you they did…I’m just saying that to be nice. They probably really did pee on the paper towel)!
    A guy in a girly car with KRISTI vanity plates is ironic. It’s not mean to laugh at the little ironies of life…it’s called having a sense of humor.

    There’s this one Modest Mouse lyric that always reminds me of Ash Wednesday: “Someday you will die and somehow something’s going to steal your carbon.”
    I think it’s from the song Parting of the Sensory.

  18. thatnavaword says:

    in both primary and high school, i was bullied, because i was soft and afraid and there were many reasons to tease me. but these things mould and change you and you either grow or you get stuck and im thankful that i grew. I’m such a hard ass these days.. well not the right word, but i dont take shit from anyone and i say my say when i deem it’s needed. I wouldn’t have done that 15 years ago. So thank you to that bully that showed me that i only allow ppl to hurt me and that i can stand up for myself

    Mind you, someone from high school befriended me on FB and she apologized for bulling, name calling and making fun of me for any reason. I accepted and let bygones be bygones

  19. Aamiene says:

    Matt i think you have a similar sense of humour to my late hubby. He came home from work one day and told me how he and his work mates were sitting having ‘smoko’ (kiwi term for morning tea at work), and he couldn’t help laughing at the guy with the ginger hair who was dunking gingernuts in his cup of tea, and didn’t understand why no one else thought it was funny.
    Funny thing is, now I type it out like this it doesn’t seem that funny. But it was hilarious at the time!
    never mind.
    Have a great day :)

    • Matt says:

      Well. I think it’s hilarious because I’m awesome about laughing at things.

      A redhead dunking gingernuts (no idea what those are) in tea. Even if I didn’t notice myself and think it was funny, if someone else would have made the observation and shared with me, I would have laughed for ages.

      I work with a lot of hilarious people. And sometimes we have to have to be serious. It’s possible that I’m the worst person at being serious. I will find a reason to laugh or secretly goof off with someone in almost every meeting. My life is better for it.

      I’m so glad you loved someone similar to that. Thank you so much for sharing that story.

      • Aamiene says:

        gingernuts – very hard ginger flavoured biscuits made for dunking. And I did laugh for ages when he told me. We were like that, he and I. We had so much fun there were times when our cheeks ached from laughing so much. He had an awesome sense of humour, but he was never mean. He was one of the kindest people i’ve ever met. Always looked out for the underdog. I’m glad I loved him too :) Thank you, Matt.

  20. Brian Snyder says:

    I love this that you wrote here.

    When I was in 7th grade I was bullied mercilessly. I never told anyone until after I had 3 kids and had been married for 15 years and it one day came gushing out to my wife. Powerful moment for me for sure.

    But over the years, my feelings about my tormentor have changed. At first, I wanted him dead. I wanted his family dead. I wanted his friends dead (Joe Pesci/Goodfellas reference).

    As I got older, I was able to go through the process of forgiveness. Though it still stings, I have made peace with what happened.

    I think about him from time to time. Wonder where he is, how his life turned out.

    And sincerely, I hope he is doing ok.

    Hope he made something of himself.

    Hope he figured out why he was such a dick and changed.

    I love your comments and responses. It helps for those of us who have bullied, and those of us who were victims of bullies.

    My bully has a name. HIs name was Dean.

    Thanks Matt.

  21. After reading this post, I’ve decided that you’re my new favorite blogger. Your words stir my soul. Keep ‘em coming! :)

    • Matt says:

      Your favorite!?

      Other than my immediate family members, I’m not sure I’ve ever been anyone’s favorite anything before.

      Regardless of how true it is, it’s incredibly nice of you to say. Thank you. I’m sure I’ll spoil it soon with some immature tale of idiocy. ;)

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