Not that long ago, contemplating mortality and feeling contrition for grave failings were considered noble pursuits. They were the themes of great literature and popular music alike. In our culture we have come, more often, to view these same experiences as neuroses. Grief is edging closer to being defined as a species of depression. Anxiety over the inevitability of death has become something to be resolved through a process ending in “acceptance,” as though being sundered from everyone and everything one loves is the sort of thing one can become good at. * * *As an extra example of self-mortification, this little essay cites favorably David Brooks.
The denial of death and guilt has become useful to us, even necessary. Ash Wednesday stands out, then, as a brutally frank reminder of things we have halfway persuaded ourselves aren’t true — that our lives are brief and that we need grace.