They were brought at last to a stone cottage at a fork in the road. It was a collecting point for prisoners of war. Billy and Weary were taken inside, where it was warm and smoky. There was a fire sizzling and popping in the fireplace. The fuel was furniture. There were about twenty other Americans in there, sitting on the floor with their backs to the wall, staring into the flames--thinking whatever there was to think, which was zero.
Nobody talked. Nobody had any good war stories to tell.
Billy and Weary found places for themselves, and Billy went to sleep with his head on the shoulder of an unprotesting captain. The captain was a chaplain. He was a rabbi. He had been shot through the hand.
Billy traveled in time, opened his eyes, found himself staring into the glass eyes of a jade green mechanical owl. The owl was hanging upside down from a rod of stainless steel. The owl was Billy's optometer in his office in Ilium. An optometer is an instrument for measuring refractive errors in eyes--in order that corrective lenses may be prescribed.
Billy had fallen asleep while examining a female patient who was in a chair on the other side of the owl. He had fallen asleep at work before. It had been funny at first. Now Billy was starting to get worried about it, about his mind in general. He tried to remember how old he was, couldn't. He tried to remember what year it was. He couldn't remember that, either.
Billy is an eye doctor by trade. Time traveler by coincidence. One minute, he's a prisoner of war. The next, he's a confused--possibly old--man, falling asleep on the job. He can't remember his age or the year. And he's worried that he is losing his mind.
It is Ash Wednesday. First day of Lent. My forehead is smudged with a cross of ash. It sounds like Billy is struggling in the above paragraphs. He's not just unstuck in time anymore. He's not even sure what time it is. He is afraid that he's losing himself.
I went to a worship service this evening at my wife's church. I played with the band and prayed for the people in my life. I'm always greatly moved during the Lenten season. I used to give things up for these 40 days. Chocolate. Cheetos. Naps. (Actually, I never take naps--so that was an easy one.) Several years ago, I decided to pray for people for Lent. Every day, I would pick a different person, and I would spend a good half hour lifting that person up to God.
This year, like Billy, I'm sort of lost. I don't quite know what to do for Lent. Nothing has really taken hold of my heart, pulling in a specific direction. Usually, by Ash Wednesday, I already know what my Lenten practice is going to be. This year, I'm sitting here, thinking about sacrifice and literally falling asleep. (In my defense, it IS almost 11 p.m.) I'm unstuck.
So, I am going to pray about it for a few more days. Perhaps, after those days, I will simply discover that I am supposed to pray all Lent. Give up watching The Lawrence Welk Show on Saturdays. Work in a soup kitchen. Start a soup kitchen.
Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for the ashes on his forehead. A gentle reminder of the need for sacrifice.