It happened again to me this year. Lent snuck up on me. As always it revealed itself to me through a random picture of someone in my social media channels who had ashes smudged on their forehead, and this made me think of my own smudge-free forehead which I had the sudden urge to smack with the butt of my palm. How could I forget, again? And then the voices.
You always forget.
You aren’t intentional with your life.
You probably should think up something quick to “give up.”
You still have time to make this time of year actually mean something.
It’s the time of year to make yourself pay for your pathetic-ness.
“These voices are the voices that never leave,” I told a good friend of mine yesterday. “These voices are the voices we must learn to live with.”
What if I don’t do anything? I pose the question to the voices, and I wait.
They scramble over each other, nervous, chaotic, making undistinguishable, dissonant noise.
I feel like my life naturally has its own seasons of Lent. Things I must give up. Reminders of my brokenness. The paradoxes of ego dying, so I can truly live. Why, wasn’t it just this morning I sat in the dark of my half bath and cried as I mouthed Solomon’s words, “It’s all meaningless,” to my silhouette in the mirror? I’m familiar with the dark place.
I don’t feel strong enough to force my own personal lent on schedule to live out with intention. I have no stamina for self-imposed suffering and denial. I currently want no part in the death, the death, the death because it sucks the life, the life, the life out of me.
What would my own version of lent look like – a version I could stomach?
I’m sitting in the comfy chairs at Starbucks, writing this post while I wait for a friend to show up. But the words aren’t coming and certainly the understanding isn’t. I get distracted by people-watching. I watch the man I presume is homeless pace the floor. He’s here every time I am. He has a puffy red coat on and one sleeve flops empty at his side, no hand sticking out. He must be missing a hand?
He walks a teetering walk, back and forth, peering over people’s shoulders and just waiting for someone to make eye contact. Is he drunk? Is he mentally handicapped? Something seems off. In a moment of desperation for my writing that is going nowhere, I meet him eye to eye and I smile. He smiles back and comes close, extremely close.
“How are you doing young lady?” He asks. I look up at him standing above me and I notice the gray stubble of beard on his chin.
“What do you think of Lent?” I ask him, curious if it’s even possible to have a coherent conversation with him.
“Oh, I hate it. I don’t want nothing to do with it. See, I was raised in Catholicism, and I gave all that up a long time ago. It left a bad taste in my mouth.”
He gave up lent for lent, I think, making myself laugh on the inside, relieved that he can in fact speak coherently, and does have a strong opinion on the topic.
“See, I’m a writer, and I want to write a post about Lent, but I’m having trouble because I realize that I hate this time of year. I feel like it’s a time of year where we all beat ourselves up for all the mistakes we’ve made, and I just don’t want to beat myself up anymore. I want to focus on my freedom to live, not the death I’m responsible for.”
It’s interesting to hear the things coming out of my own mouth.
“Don’t. Don’t beat yourself up for it.” He says to me. “It’s just a lame attempt to keep people in line. It doesn’t do any good. I gave it up a long time ago. I was tired of having all those rules shoved down my throat.” His voice is angry now. Seems we’ve both hit a nerve.
“Do you believe there is a God?”
“Oh yes. I have to believe there is a God or my dumbass wouldn’t be here, surviving.”
His feet are shuffling in place and his head is turning repetitively as he talks to me, a bit like Stevie Wonder. I’ve riled him up. I think about apologizing, but I’m not really sorry. I needed the help of another human being, and he was available.
“So why do we hate Lent so much? Why does it make us angry?”
“Oh, I suppose it’s because we don’t understand it. Yes, we don’t understand it.” Then he adds with frustration, “I don’t want to spend anymore time with it.”
With those words, I see my friend enter through the front door.
“Thanks for your time, sir. What’s your name?”
“Jimmy.” He extends his hand in a cordial handshake.
“Jimmy. Thanks for your time. This is my friend Teresa. I’m going to hang out with her now.”
“Okay. You ladies have a nice day.” He says goodbye but he still stands way too close to my chair. And then he mumbles to me, “Too many people in here just blabbering and talking bullshit. I’m going to go see if I can find something to set on fire. You ladies have a nice day.”
Did he really just say that? I wonder. He reminds me of some Old Testament prophet – speaking truth and destruction and doing odd things and being written off for a loon. Is he a loon? This time he actually walks away.
Later in the afternoon as I’m raking the leaves in my backyard, the leaves I never took care of back in the Fall, I’m sweating and thinking back on my conversation with Jimmy.
“We don’t understand it…I don’t want to spend anymore time with it.”
I don’t want to spend anymore time with it either Jimmy. I know there’s something there, anger that both of us would be wise to pay attention to, but right now I don’t feel like I have the energy to unpack it. I know if I don’t, it won’t go away. It’ll be like these leaves, still here four months later. These leaves that are not going to be cleaned up in a single day. It’s going to take time.
Maybe the point of today, and this post, is to simply let myself say of Lent, “I don’t understand it” even if sitting with the unknowing makes me feel a little looney, like I want to set fire to something like this pile of leaves and then rub the ashes on my forehead.