“Remember, you are dust…”

“Remember, Roc, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Stock's ashes

I believe I will be dealing with mortality this Lent.  Damn.

“Remember, you are dust…” I haven’t ever liked this… word, this saying, back then. It’s not a prayer, not a blessing for sure. It could be a mandate or an instruction or even a command. Today, it strikes me as a summons. I still don’t like it. But, at this juncture in life, I need to at least look at being dust as an unopened & disregarded gift.


“Remember, you are dust…” It reminds me of three weeks ago when I received the ashes of my friend, Gerry Stockhausen, SJ. Personal delivery from Omaha where he died… Thirteen pounds of ashes in a cherry wood urn… This healthy, vital, & good man had been taken down by leukemia & its aftermath. Talk about diminishment.

With many others, I said, “This should not have happened. It’s not right…”


Gerry was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia about a year ago following a series of tests to discover why he was tired all of a sudden. We prayed, of course, figuring that he’ll pull through. He always did. Trips to Mayo provided treatment & follow up. He worked less & less. And then moved from DC to Omaha to prepare for the bone marrow transplant. Stock tolerated the drugs well. He was still stuck in his room for weeks.

So, at this point, consider what he gradually lost and had to hand over: meaningful work, where he lived, local community & friends, ministry, easy contact with others, isolation, loss of his near constant tan (no more tanning!), even height since he more palpably shrank.

Then, good news about the transplant, his blood count, and after 100 days, he was in remission. Five days later it all started to go south. Tiredness & gut reactions to the transplant colored November. Gerry’s feet, legs, & thumbs swelled out of proportion. He lost even the image of who he was physically.

More and more until the Friday he began to call family & friends to let them know nothing more could be done. He expected to live only a few days. Dying. Death. Cremation. Thirteen pounds placed in a wall with other Jesuits. No name plate yet.  “Remember, you are dust…”


First Lesson & Indispensible Starting Point: Mortality sucks.

First Question: How might mortality become a gift this Lenten season?

First Prayer: O God, teach us your ways, show us your paths.

Thirteen pounds. All we are is dust in the wind. Sing it, Stockman! Sing it, Kansas! –roc,sj


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