I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind.
“Dust in the Wind,” Kansas, 1977
Ash Wednesday always makes me think of dust (that’s the point, after all). And I can’t think of dust without thinking of Bobby.
Bobby was one of my best friends at church growing up. He, David and I were either The Three Musketeers or The Three Stooges, depending on who you asked. We often hung out on the elevated front porch of the Roanoke Church of Christ overlooking Brandon Avenue near the “Established in 33 AD” sign. From that lofty perch, we surveyed our domain and made our grandiose plans. We were Kings of the World–and we were only fifteen!
We played basketball together, talked about (and ogled) girls together, and sang together: The Oak Ridge Boys, John Denver, Boston, whatever the latest craze on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. We made quite a name for ourselves in the showers at Camp Alta Mons every summer with our 3-part harmony a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It’s a shame they would never let the girls close enough to the boys’ bathhouse to hear us.
But David and I always had to take a backseat to Bobby whenever he picked up his guitar. Truth is, he was always Number One with the girls, and we knew it. Tall, blond and with a glint of sly twinkle in his eye, he was a bit of a rogue, and a very lovable one at that. He only knew one song, but it carried him a considerable distance on those long, lazy summer afternoons during “Free Time.”
“Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. From the young pre-pubescent ones who were just feeling the first stirrings of yearnings they had yet to understand to the fully-blossomed ones who locked onto Bobby with their adoring, laser-eyes, girls gathered around Bobby while David and I stood off to the side, looking on in awe and trying to catch a reflection of his shining glory. If we stood close enough to him, we reasoned, maybe those beautiful creatures would notice us too.
He always started off the same way, but it never got old. “I’m taking requests, ladies. What’ll it be, ‘Dust in the Wind,’ ‘Dust in the Wind,’–or… ‘Dust in the Wind?”
He always winked and drew out that last “Dust in the Wind” for effect. The girls giggled, their sweet laughter echoing and ricocheting off the tall pines and cedars which surrounded the dining hall like stained glass windows in a cathedral.
As he played the opening chords, those melancholy, acoustic chimes–a call to contemplate–we “closed our eyes,” just like the song said, and leaned back, the better to think deep, heavy thoughts. We swayed in the shafts of light which streamed like thick, golden columns through the planked roof of the commons area outside the dining hall. A breeze stirred, propelling tiny dust motes through the sunbeams. They sparkled like glitter, a cloud of gold and silver promises dancing around our heads.
We looked up and thought they were our dreams, tokens of our perfect future yet to unfurl. Little did we know at the time that dust was our ultimate destiny. We sang the words to the song, but we had absolutely no idea what they meant.
A few years ago, I was visiting my mother at Christmas when the phone rang. Mom answered, and it was obvious from the sudden contraction of her brow that it wasn’t good news. “What happened?” she asked, and whoever it was on the other end of the line filled her in on the grim details of the tragedy du jour.
I watched her walk back into the living room and braced myself. “Bobby’s dead, ” she said. “Heart attack.” Bobby was the son of Mom’s best friend.
The Reaper cackled, placing a well-aimed boot heel straight into my gut. The blow knocked the wind out of me so hard that I had to sit down. He was barely past forty. I felt my own chest tighten, and I struggled to breathe.
Last night, when the priest marked an ashen cross on my forehead, she spoke to me words of hard truth, the kind that sets you straight and opens your eyes wide. “Remember,” she said, “thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
I returned to my pew and I thought of Bobby. I said a prayer for him, that his ashes and dust lay at an angle of good repose, poised for resurrection, and that his rest was sweet.
I said a prayer for all of us, amalgamated men and women dimly bearing the image of God, walking mud pies, who would soon rise up and, for a time at least, “go forth to serve the world.”