Thursday, February 23, 2012

What are you doing for Lent?

I'm a bad Catholic. "Bad" as in, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been 16 years since my last confession."  Nope, not making that up.

Actually, now that I think about it, I don't remember the rest of the script.  Confession has a script that you follow ... and I'm just realizing that if you tossed me in a confessional and told me to be my Catholic self, I would fail miserably. I do still have the Act of Contrition memorized, but the order of the script is pretty much gone.

Please note, I'm not taking pride in this. I'm simply stating facts.

One of the things that I still like about my particular religion is Lent, the six weeks and odd days that lead to Easter.  (Lent ends before Easter ... I think on Good Friday.) Of course, as a kid I preferred Advent: Advent's only four weeks long and the prize at the end of the game is Christmas.  Since college, however, I've much preferred Lent.

Lent, when taken seriously, is a true test of the will.  It's like New Year's resolutions but there's a lot more self-loathing and personal judgment involved (thus, making it more challenging and potentially more satisfying).

My family cannot talk about Lent without also talking about (wait for it ...) sugar.  When I was growing up, my mother gave up "candy, cake, and cookies ... and potato chips. And any complaining regarding this 'sacrifice'" every year. EVERY year.  My mom (if you regular readers haven't picked up on this) is a hard ass.  (Mom: this is a compliment. Don't freak out.)  Another way of saying this is, "She's a Scorpio." Same thing. Anyway, the day after Ash Wednesday would roll around and--snap--she magically stopped eating this stuff. And she didn't touch it again until Easter.

Now, we have to add a footnote here. If this were a professional paper, you would find this in tiny print at the bottom of the page: "It must be noted that my mother's Irish Catholic family believes in breaking Lent on Sunday.  Other people, specifically my Italian Catholic father-in-law, calls such practice 'The Behavior of Heathens' and a product of the 'Church of What's Happenin Now?'  In response to these objections, please see the following citation of Michel Martin's Tell Me More on NPR (April 22, 2011), regarding an interview with a priest who explains that the church does not disapprove of breaking Lent on Sunday.  This is absolutely acceptable with the traditions of the church."

So, some years mom literally touched nothing with sugar for six weeks and three days. And some years she would occasionally break on Sunday. Typically, her style is more the former than the latter.

There was the year that she gave up coffee. BAD idea.  Pretty scary actually.  She stuck to it and then later swore she would never do that again. We made her promise that she would stick to her promise.

I haven't really done anything in a few years. If I'm being honest, I really haven't tried hard at all since junior year of college ... sooo ... eight years.  (Whoa. Eight years since junior year of college?)  That year, I did the whole "candy, cake, and cookies ... and potato chips" and took it really, really seriously. I just wanted to know that I could commit to something and follow through.  Maybe I was thinking that this was good training for both of my senior theses?  Or for grad school? Who knows, but I lost a lot of weight without even trying which was really cool, and I promptly gained it all back by the fall semester, but it was fun while it lasted. I tried to repeat my efforts the next year, and I could not get my act together.  It was baffling. I have no idea why it was so hard to take this task seriously, but I couldn't do it.  Maybe it was because I was working on two senior theses? And my attitude toward everything non-theses related was (for lack of a better expression), "Screw this"? That Lenten "can-do" frame of mind was simply not happening for me.

This year, I want to try again but I don't know what I want to do.  Of course, I have waited for Ash Wednesday to pass to consider seriously this question. I've been tossing around a bunch of ideas, but only two are really sticking.

First, I want to do a money detox.  Specifically, I really want to consider the state of my closet.  Maybe you've heard this stat? It's something like, "People only wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time."  Don't quote me on that, but I know that I've heard something like this.  I think I'm one of these people. If this is true, then I should get rid of a lot my stuff and not buy anything to replace it.  I'm pretty sure six weeks will give me a sense of what to do about this.  The incentive for following through is pretty obvious: watch the dollar signs add up in my checking account.  But, let me remind myself: Plenty of Ash Wednesdays I have said to myself, "Oh, this won't be so bad" and it ends up awful to control.  So, we'll see how this goes.

The other thing I want to do is study Italian for 20 minutes a day.  I could just cry thinking about all of the vocab I've lost, the exception verbs that elude me, not to mention my complete loss of the subjunctive.  I was on my way to mastering how to read the Sicilian dialect, but then I graduated and it all ground to a halt. It's a sin.  Really: THIS should be the first thing I mention if I ever do go back to confession.  The other day, I thought to myself, "Yeah, but how am I going to do this?  Review lists of verbs? Work on random grammar exercises?" and then I remembered how I studied for my graduate French exam a few years ago: Pick up a goddamn book written in the foreign language of choice, grab a dictionary, sit your ass down, and get to work.  Right now, that's my plan for that component: Just grab one of my Italian books off of my shelf, my falling-apart dictionary, my other big, fat, heavy dictionary that supplements the falling-apart dictionary, and make like I'm in college again.  I can honestly say that I really care about this.  This I want to continue indefinitely into the future.  I have 20 minutes every day. Right?


Oh, falling-apart dictionary: ti voglio bene.  We spent so many countless hours working together from 8th grade all the way through college.  Don't worry: You'll never get tossed in my recycling bin.

It is just occurring to me that I need to start on this stuff tomorrow if it's going to count. How did Lent sneak up on me like this?

Ahh, la domanda della mia vita: How does everything manage to sneak up on me?

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