The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
Ash Wednesday, Feb 26 2020
Putting a record on our turntable takes me back to my child hood. Back to our cozy basement family room, sitting on the warm wool carpet that came from Grandma’s house, looking up, up, up at my Father. He was choosing our music, you see.
While the snow howled outside, and the dark pressed in, he trailed his finger down the shelf of LPs, then slid out a cardboard sleeve, covered in bright colorful artwork. His hands moved like a conductor, drawing the paper sleeved disk out of its cardboard shell.
Each layer of protective wrap set aside gently, finally the record itself tipped ever so smoothly out of the creamy wrapper to balance like a disk against the callused palm of his hand. My father’s two strong, rough hands held flat, the edges of the record held between them so no oil ever touched the playing surface.
With a twist of his wrist the disk spun, as if magically, between his palms and flat, as he lowered it down onto the platter.
Then out came the brushes, the disk cleaning fluid that smelled magically technical to my nose. The turntable spun silently, round and round, while my father carefully, reverently let its turning motion clean the flat black surface of the record against his soft brushes.
And then, the most important part, the needle was carefully lined up, just over that blank edge of the spinning disk, and lowered down to kiss the surface and the speakers, set up near the ceiling, overflowed with a tapestry of music.
Watching my father I understood instinctively that the records that gave us beautiful music were precious. What I did not know, as a child, was that they were mortal.
Every time the needle touched our favorite Scottish pipe bad LP, or Dad’s Bruce Springsteen, or Mom’s Billy Joel they gave the gift of their music and turned, a little more, to dust. Like, if you will, us; slowly wearing out, giving away our gifts, turning to dust.
There are two responses to this tender knowledge. There were (still are) folks who bought those records, and played them once, to record them to a tape and then never played them again.
And then there are the folks like my Dad. Who know what the gift costs, but would never think of trying to hoard it forever. Who treat the fragile beauty of life with reverence, even worship; but play it anyway, loud and beautiful.
And Ash Wednesday reminds us, that we too are wearing out. It is inevitable.
Even the records that were never played are not what they were, and someday, unplayed they too will crumble to dust in their sleeves. And that, I think, is the greater tragedy. All the beauty that turns to rust, to dust, unused, hoarded against tomorrow, when it was meant to be shared.
So, beloveds, remember: we are dust. The question is not how do we keep from crumbling; but will we share the beauty we have been given in the time that we have?