When I was a kid, I remember Lent being like every other time of the year. We went to church on Sundays but there was none of that giving things up or eating fish on Fridays. Of course, my mom had left Catholicism behind by then so that may be why we never did any of the traditional trappings of Lent.
I wonder now if my mom missed it. If there was a part of her who desperately wanted to turn back to the religion of her youth to pay homage in some form or way during one of the most common expressions of Catholic devotion. Based on comments she had made to me over the years, I doubt it. She had made her peace with leaving Catholicism and while she still reached out to the saints and said three Hail Marys before a trip, it wasn’t something she wanted back in her life.
I can understand that.
So It Begins
Every year, I have an ongoing debate with myself about whether or not I will be observing Lent. It’s not really my thing, per se, and while I desperately want to honor my ancestors in an expression they prefer, it’s asking a lot. I not only have to give things up but step up the game each year to ensure that I understand the overall point of what I’m doing. The ancestors don’t always win the argument – I didn’t actively do anything last year – but they tend to be really pushy about it until I make a decision.
This year, I figured I may as well. It wasn’t like I was doing anything worthwhile and I tend to use the forty days as a time of reflection. I never know where my thoughts are going to take me and it’s kind of nice sometimes to find a single thread woven through the season of Lent to the finish line. Other times, I feel worn out and cranky, ready to throw my hands up in frustration and irritation when it’s over.
When I agreed to observe Lent this year, the ancestors had two additional requirements for this year. I needed to find myself a rosary with a crucifix attached and a Bible. I said no but one early February day found me running errands for what they had requested. The Bible I found had a soft cover and I wound up with a St. Francis medal in addition to the rosary. They didn’t say why these things were requested; just that they were needed. I set them all up in an altar area after reading that some Catholics set up a little prayer space with their family Bible for Lent.
I gave up diet Coke for Lent. I had gotten the two requested items for my ancestors. For myself, I set up a pretty little area to hold all of these so I had a single place to practice my Hail Marys every morning for memorization. I was almost looking forward to this Lenten season. I had high hopes at any rate.
The Middle of the Road
Caffeine headaches are no joke. They started almost immediately and I was hating it. I tried other caffeine substitutes but wound up giving up on them eventually too. They didn’t have the same pizazz as diet Coke and they didn’t stave off the caffeine headaches very well. I remember someone telling me that one way to give caffeine up is to take a can of regular Coke and pound it down. I thought about trying this but stayed away from all sodas instead.
My diet suffered at first because I was shoving horrifying amounts of sugar down my throat to hide from the caffeine headaches. I started carefully cutting back, making sure to stick to the fruits and salad snacks I was used to. I had moderate success in that arena. But I stuck to my guns on Fridays, only eating fish for lunch and dinner. My husband and son hated it since they despise seafood; they’d eat burgers on Fridays and bitch about the seafood smell that lingered in the air each Friday night.
I practiced the Hail Mary every day after I had written down my daily Tarot card interpretation in my Tarot journal. I got really good at it and was almost able to memorize it by the second week. I’d forget the line “the Lord is with thee” or “Holy Mary, mother of God” depending on the day. Eventually it stuck. I was pretty thrilled when I got it right on the first try for the first time. My memory gets worse each year but I find it soothing that this prayer that my ancestors whispered frequently enough is now something that I, too, can say by memory.
A week and a half in, the pandemic really exploded. School was effectively canceled and while I was still in the office that first week, running things basically solo, I wondered how this would impact Lent for me. It didn’t, jokes from the husband about Lent never ending now not withstanding. I was more easily able to moderate my sugar intake. And on the days where it was warmer, I went for a walk after dinner to watch how my neighborhood reacted to the social distancing requirement and was blasted with news about what places were shutting down each day.
I wonder how the Catholics of my local parish reacted when the priest began posting videos of services on You Tube. They continued to post quotes and messages on their Facebook page – really positive and nice things that I appreciated myself – and lamented the inability to meet with the parish family during the season of Lent. I, of course, was mostly unaffected since I never intended on going to Church during Lent. That may change in the future, but not this year.
I felt a little lost when the pandemic started. I was still doing what I said I would but it was like… it felt a little like everything was slipping away even though that isn’t really true. I tossed myself into exploring others’ Lenten devotions. I was hoping to find something, anything really, which would help me to feel connected to it all still.
I found some interesting things but it was mostly selfies of Catholics from “happier” Lenten times or some positive motivational quotes. Boring. Boring. Not for me. Not what I was looking for. Not what I needed. It took me no time at all to begin obsessing over what new Lenten devotion Ms. Dirty would post, amazed at how I could just feel how she must have felt as she went through each moment. I was breathless and said to myself often: I want that; that’s where I need to go from here.
It was after one of her posts that I began writing the brunt of my post on Ra. I’m not saying her post had much to do with my reflective thoughts on him, but I could see a similarity between what she seems to be doing as part of her religious path and what I am doing as part of this newly found one. I can… I don’t want to say “see” because it’s not a vision, but I can… sense where things are going for me and part of it entails a very similar evocative practice as that espoused by Ms. Dirty.
Perhaps one day, I’ll finally get to that practice and maybe, just maybe, my posts on said practice will resonate with people.
Beyond giving things up and wanting to feel connected and desiring the ability to have an evocative practice, Lent is about alms-giving. I don’t have spare change to give out much anymore, but in years past, I would donate money to causes that spoke to me on each Friday of the Lenten season. This year, I combed my house for things to give to the Good Will once Lent was up.
I have a very large box of things and two bags of clothes to donate, but I don’t dare donate them now. I’m going have to wash everything once this quarantine business is all over so that I can give it away, knowing that I’ve ensured the items to be good and ready for a new home. I’m hoping next year that I can do likewise, but maybe with a few charity alms interspersed. I guess we’ll see.
Whether I observe Lent or not, I am acutely aware of the timing if it. I always know when it will end and usually, around mid-Lent, I get the feeling it’s time to book an appointment to donate blood. I do this every year on Good Friday. It’s an homage to my grandfather who was big on donating blood. I’ve gone every Good Friday since this Lenten thing began for me to a little local church that has provided space for the local Red Cross chapter.
Except for this year.
I’m still getting the emails and sometimes the texts from the Red Cross alerting me that my blood donation is needed. But with the pandemic still in full swing, I couldn’t go. I don’t have the ability to buy or make a face mask and I couldn’t chance it. And now that the Red Cross has stopped its Blood Mobile travels this year, this means my yearly appointments will have to take place a half hour away instead of right down the street.
I told my grandfather that I was sorry I couldn’t go this year. Assured him that I would make an appointment once quarantine let’s up again. I was… devastated frankly at the idea that my one ritual of most importance [to me] could not be observed.
And in someone else’s voice he assured me that the health and wellbeing of myself and my family is far more important right now than my homage to him. I could feel his love shining to me through that message and while guilt gnaws at me still a bit, I’ve come to accept it at least.
The second ending ritual for Lent in my world is a gift to myself for seeing through the entire 40 days of Lent. Obviously, this only occurs when I’m successful and I can admit that while giving up diet Coke may sound easy, it wasn’t. I still haven’t had a single fucking sip and I’m still bitchy about it.
I usually look for something early on so I have it in my mind’s eye. A sort of carrot on a string to pull me along the next forty days. This year, I couldn’t really find anything that I thought met the bill of “a gift for not giving up”. I perused my various “I want” lists over and over again but nothing really spoke to me. I went into Lent without an image of anything in my mind and came through three quarters of the season without anything, so maybe I don’t need that dangling carrot anymore. Or maybe, I just didn’t need it this year.
I was really just messing around a few weeks after the shelter-at-home orders went out when I looked up “mourning ring” on Etsy. I like mourning jewelry, so why not? I ended up finding a replica mourning ring within the first two seconds of my search that said, “I’m your gift. And I’m going to come home to you.” And that ring, that beautiful damn ring, stayed frozen as a pretty little picture in my mind up until the evening of Good Friday when I finally bought it.
Usually, my gifts are intrinsically tied to me, but this one is definitely tied to the ancestors. It speaks to me of them and whispers their names in my ear. Looking down upon it sitting happily on my finger, I can feel the connection between us.
This year, Lent was a lot of things. It was short and sweet (time has no meaning really right now but my personal relationship with relativity says it was fast). It had fewer candle led whispers and rituals than I had originally planned for. It had more jokes and stories between my husband and I. It had a lot more seafood than I am used to and it had a lot less feeling of connection to anyone or anything than I usually do.
To end this entry, I’m going to retell a story the husband told me shortly after he told me that Lent will never end since the Pope closed down the Catholic churches, which means that Holy Week and Easter is canceled.
I was talking with one of the old-timers at the club and he mentioned that he was giving up the usual things for Lent. I asked him what was the worst thing he gave up and he said, without thinking about it, “potatoes. I give up drinking and smoking and gambling every year without missing any of it, but potatoes was the hardest. You don’t realize how much food is made from potatoes until you can’t eat any.” I looked at the old-timer, trying to figure out how many side dishes I ate every week that had potatoes in them and nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah I can see that.”