I’m not Catholic but I love Lent. I like the discipline of it. I like the shortness of it. I like the end of it. It’s easier than making a New Year’s Resolution because, let’s face it, forty days is a whole other thing than an entire year. I am a short distance runner by nature. This year, I decided to commit to not speaking ill of another person for the next forty days. So far, so good.
I have a friend who is a priest. I’ve known him for thirty-five years. He had an accident a number of years ago that left him with brain damage, and he now has no filter. In other words, he says what he thinks. He’s childlike in his honesty. So to get to the point, they were desperately short of priests in Nebraska where he lives, and they asked him to do the Lent Service (it might have another name, but not being Catholic, I don’t know what that name might be). So he got up there and said something like this: “I gave up popcorn, one of my very favorite things, for Lent for thirty-five years, and look what happened to me? I had a bike accident and now I can’t do things like drive my own car. Don’t give up anything for Lent.” Needless to say, he’s no longer inspiring Catholic doctrine from the pulpit. I think he might be the best priest out there right now, but that’s another blog.
But this year, my friend C, who always gives up candy but agonizes over it each year (sorry C, but really, you always give up the same thing), asked me what I was going to give up. I started to think about it and found myself uncomfortable with the self-serving nature of giving up something that is solely for my personal pleasure. Who benefits from that sacrifice? No one. Yet another holiday promoting narcissism.
I decided that I didn’t want to give up anything. A nutritionist I pretended to work with once told me not to give up things like Diet Coke which are killing me, but rather to add things I should eat, and they will take the place of the bad things over time. It really is a good habit changing methodology. So I decided to apply it to Lent too. You get the connection.
So, I knew I needed to add something for Lent, not take away.
For Lent I am only saying nice things about people. No bad things about anyone. Now please don’t think I’m someone who goes around the world speaking ill of people all the time, but at work I sometimes find myself making negative observations about people, and I feel the effects. Believe me, it’s much harder to give up words during Lent than chocolate. Until I tried to do this, I had no idea how much conversation is taken up with negative comments about others.
Maya Angelou, who as a child, stopped speaking for six years when she thought that her words had killed the man who raped her (he was beaten to death after he was released from jail), chooses her words very, very carefully. She is someone who listens well. Anyway, if you are in her home and speak ill of someone else, she asks you to leave. It appears, to judge by my Lent challenges, that I wouldn’t get past the front stoop at Maya’s house. But she also says, “I did the best I could, and when I knew better, I did better.” It’s my favorite quote. It’s like confession absolution in a sentence.
I am going to try to live my Lent commitment after Lent has finished. It really makes you think about your words. This also means that the following people will no longer appear in my missives; DT, Putin, most of the GOP, and Hitler, to name a few.