For You Are Dust

For You Are Dust February 22, 2023

a dish of dust or ashes, with a cross drawn in it
image via pixabay


Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Dust is not a bad or a good thing. It’s only a small thing. Anything broken up into tiny enough pieces becomes dust: ashes, sand worn very fine by the wind, sawdust from a mill.

Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

When I watched the 9/11 terrorist attacks happen over twenty years ago, I was traumatized by the cloud. I couldn’t imagine anything so sinister as that gigantic building collapsing into a pillar of ash. And the ash billowed out until it covered the whole island, precisely, almost neatly, in a gray-white blanket. People ran for their lives, but the cloud overtook them. The people coated with the filth looked like statues. They stumbled around, tears leaving streaks in the coating on their faces, wheezing, trying to breathe.

Years later, the cloud they’d inhaled made them sick, and then they died. It was carcinogenic.

Once I watched a documentary on volcanos, and I saw Mount Saint Helens send out a burst of ash that obliterated all the wildlife for miles around. I saw another volcano in Asia, coating a city in a rain of dust. Buildings and cars were smeared with filth. People walked around with umbrellas caked in ash as thick as snow, barely able to see.

Once I saw a display of dead bodies from Pompeii, frozen forever in time, mummies made of stone. They had been living people like me, going about their business in the shadow of a great mountain. And then the mountain exploded, and the cloud of ashes covered everyone before they could run away. Now, nearly two thousand years ago, all that’s left is the shapes of terrified bodies cringing from the lethal rain.

That is what you are. You are something that could make the world dirty if you liked. You could terrorize and traumatize, if you wanted. You could hurt and kill, if you chose to do so. You could destroy life. That is within your capacity. You are dust.

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Dust is the reason the sky is blue. I learned that in elementary school. Air isn’t visible. It doesn’t have a color. The atmosphere is made of air, but that air is not pure, and that’s why it looks like it has color. The particular yellow of sunlight bouncing off dust in the atmosphere causes that cerulean shade, the shade we see when there’s nothing but air overhead. The blue of the sky is reflected by the water, which is why oceans and lakes look blue– a different blue of different bodies of water. Sometimes the light hits the particles at a different angle, refracting differently, so in the early morning or late evening the sky looks pink or orange or viridian. All because of dust.

That is also why we sometimes can’t see the sky. When you see a great big cumulus cloud overhead, that is water, gathered around solid particles blown by the wind. Each little droplet condenses around a nucleus of dust.

It would never rain or snow if the air were pure. Condensation doesn’t happen in perfectly clean air. Because it rains and snows, we have life on earth. Because we are alive, we can admire the blue and the orange and the viridian of the sky. We can look up in fascination when the light hits a droplet around a bit of grit just perfectly, and a rainbow becomes visible.

That is what you are. You are something that brings beauty to the entire world. You are a being that makes invisible things visible. You are someone who makes light into different colors to comfort and fascinate everyone who sees you, to teach us what time of day it is and what we should do next. You are something without which the water won’t nourish the earth. You can be lifegiving, the source of life all around you, if you choose. You are dust.

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

You are a thing that can be good or evil, life or death, fire or water.  You can kill, maim, and destroy, but you can also bring beauty and life.

One day your whole life will be demanded of you and it will be all you have– no wealth, no worldly titles, only dust on the scales, dust for the Just Judge to see, dust that broke or dust that healed, dust that gave life or dust that took it away.

Fortunately, you are more than just dust. You are dust with the gift of free will. You can choose whether to work to bring life or to work to take it. You can choose the ashes or the rainbow.

You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

What you do until you return, is up to you.


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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