Friday, March 16, 2012

Lent and What It Means to Me

When I was a kid my folks weren’t super religious. We went to church every Sunday, did the holy days, and then of course the no meat on Friday during Lent. My mom wasn’t as big on us giving things up as she was us doing a nice thing, like volunteering at a nursing home. It was anything to take the focus off of ourselves and perhaps to find God. Well then again, Catholics as a rule as never fervently religious, but more or less stubbornly adherent to tradition. Heck, the last time I checked our clergy still couldn't marry.
Alter boys anyone.....Okay, I had to make the joke. 
Like all Fridays during Lent, we didn’t do meat. When we were younger and were in that phase, we did fish sticks. My mom threw them in the tray, threw them in the oven, and put dipping sauce on the table. We were so little that we figured they were like chicken nuggets, except they were fish. Sometimes, we even went to Long John Silvers up the road. Usually, the folks that worked at Long John Silvers where I lived had been rejected from McDonald’s and were on welfare much faster than their fry and Big Mac slinging counterparts. Nonetheless, it was a nice way to mix up Friday.
As we got older and grew out of the fish sticks, my mom mixed it up. We had tuna  noodle casserole. I know I am one of the few people in the world who likes the dish but oh well. My mom does cook the best. During that phase in my life my dad’s mother, Ralph, had a host of health problems and needed visitors on the regular. My folks usually took Fridays, and we brought fish from places like Freddy’s II, a delicious restaurant in my hometown. Or we went to Pasta Too, but the problem was the wait time to order was eternal, and everyone and their mother knew about the yummy fish sandwiches.
One time my mom had to go out of town during Lent. I was left to cook and my father, like many men, doesn’t like my cooking. While my dad likes my lasagna, my burgers, my breaded chicken he does not like my fish. The night before, my eleven year old brain failed to properly read the instructions. My sister’s eight year old brain then backed up my stupidity and we burnt one dish and left the middle of another frozen. My brother, being the typical male, failed to help us in the kitchen as he slaughtered opponents on his Sega Genesis. So when Friday came, my dad decided to make it a take out and movie night. Being a woman, not having to cook no matter how old you are is awesome. So needless to say, my dad became the most awesome man in the world at that moment. 
We went to the American Legion and had the greasiest, yet most delectable fish sandwiches ever. There was so much grease on that bun I could feel my eleven year old arties clog, but I didn’t care. It was good, damn good. After that, we watched some shoot ‘em up movie. While my dad often masqueraded as the bad cop when we were growing up, it was an occupational hazard. My mom was the good cop and someone had to balance out in this dragnet. While he was less than happy he had to sign my homework card for an assignment forgotten, on the other hand he told me it happened. My dad also informed me that while one might make mistakes, the goal was to never make them again and just to turn my homework in on time from that day forward. I was surprised. My mother, on the other hand, would have lost her mind, reamed me out. She would have been okay with the failed math test as long as I told the truth. But being a teacher, she didnt tolerate not doing homework or worse yet, losing it.
And being a gym teacher, she would have had a heart attack if she saw the grease entering the veins of our bodies. She would have reminded my father that high blood pressure and heart disease ran in his family, and that we were to eat healthy things like vegetables. To which my brother would reply, "Easy on dad mom. French fries are made from potatoes and that's a vegetable."
 Then there was Good Friday. When I was younger, we were told there was to be no television, radio, or any other things that killed the brain and made noise from twelve to three. When I was about six or seven, I wanted to watch cartoons with my sister. We were home from school. My mother said, “You can’t do that. Jesus is on the cross.” I told him it didn’t look like Jesus was anywhere to be found and both my sister and I proceeded to turn on the TV. My dad, who had come home early, found us, snatched the clicker from my hand, yelled at us, and then sent us to our rooms. Needless to say my sister and I never challenged that rule again.
When I got to college, however, I learned to use Good Friday to my advantage. Many of the Catholic students claimed it was a religious holiday. My first year of school, when I was active in what was the Catholic Center at NYU, I went to church and there was some sort of mass. My second year I used the “holy day” as an excuse to get not one but two term papers done. Sure I wasn’t praying, but I was using God’s time wisely. Third year of college I spent all day doing homework, and then jumped on the train to spend Easter weekend with my ex-fiance and his friends in NJ.
These days, while I am not a theocrat, I do observe Lent in my own way. It is part of my upbringing that I just never quite shook. I eat fish when Friday comes whether it is a tuna melt, macaroni and cheese, or shrimp and rice from the local food cart. Sometimes, if a diner has it, I go for the lobster bisque.
I also try to do more service during Lent. Whether it is volunteering for causes related to HIV/AIDS education, domestic violence prevention, or any anti-bullying charity. I also have found myself not going on facebook after twelve noon on Fridays. It’s not because facebook is bad, but because it is something outside of myself that takes the focus off of me. When I get that noise out of my head, that gossip, that drama out of my head I remember what’s important. I remember my purpose in life is to do service.
While I do not consider myself terribly religious, I am more spiritual than anything. This is my opportunity that I take once a year to cleanse my mind, soul, and spirit. We live in a world polluted by so much hate, filth, distrust, and prejudice. So I take abstaining from meat and giving up facebook on Friday afternoon/evenings as a chance to get back to basics. To me, God isn’t about a man in the sky, a wrathful being, it’s about peace of mind. We don’t have enough of that in this world.
PS. Feel free to tell me if and how you honor your spirituality. Or if you don't and why not. 

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