Here's a definition of irony: Having your pastor intone "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," while smudging your Olay-Regenerist-slathered forehead with ashes.
That's almost laugh-out-loud funny.
Other things aren't.
Your pastor's nervous jokes about heading on a trip to the Middle East, at this time in history, with a group of other Christian clergypeople. Your nervous rejoinder that, "Well, it could be worse -- you could be traveling with the Danish Political Cartoonists' Association."
The death, within a couple of days, of Kirby Puckett and Dana Reeve -- people your own age, dying of diseases you like to tell yourself happen to old people. Your getting winded and sore shoveling your car out of two feet of snow, and worrying for the first time in your life that you might have a heart attack if you keep this up too long.
Your noticing your mother's declining health and cognitive ability; the increasingly Groundhog Day quality of life in your household as you tell her the same information over and over and over again; the increasing scope of her not remembering; knowing that this is probably going to get worse, not better.
Your thinking about your own life's winding down...about the distinct possibility that you are going to be all alone when this happens; about the equally distinct possibility that the at least decent quality of life that most older people in this country now enjoy will no longer exist.
I know I'm sometimes slow on the uptake, but it seems to have taken Ash Wednesday a whole week to percolate through my psyche.
I'm standing on the edge of the wilderness where I know that things are going to be gradually stripped away...stripped away...stripped away...but there's no other direction to travel. I think back to something I think my blog-friend Emily shared from a sermon: Why not die to yourself now and get it over with.