Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. I had to look that up. Not being from a liturgical background myself, Lent comes and Lent goes, and mostly what it means to me is yummy fish tacos and 40 days of my Lent-ing friends being in vile moods ranging from I gave up sugar to I gave up serial murder and cocaine. (Wait… you mean my friends didn’t give up serial murder and cocaine?!!)
In my childhood, Lent was something that just existed on TV. Something that either showed piety, or got laughs. You know, like Corporal Klinger giving up atheism for Lent? It’s not that we didn’t have Catholics and Lutherans… it’s just that they existed in their own schools over there, somewhere. And in the event that there was mixing, you were much more likely to be talking about Girl Scout cookies and camping than religious dogma.
So, I had the abridged, television explanation: Lent was the time leading up to Easter, and you gave things up for it. And then–when the Lent-ers ran out of private school in 9th grade and we wound up in school together–Maybe don’t offer to trade sandwiches, and don’t eat that chocolate in front of them. You know… it’s a tradition, and it’s good they’re doing it.
So, I was quietly supportive. You know the drill. “You can do it” and keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not doing it.
Oh, yes, I was ever so appropriate and supportive until…
One day I ran into a friend who had given up smoking for Lent, and there he was… cigarette in his teeth, doing his best imitation of a chimney.
Well, screw quiet support. I liked the guy. I liked his kids. And frankly, children deserve a father with pink lungs and an intact aorta.
What are you doing?
Well, panicking, obviously. He knew he’d been caught. And by the way, I’m not even slightly fooled by that look of confusion on his face. Cheater.
I thought you gave up smoking for Lent.
And that confused look just stays there. Like he doesn’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Lent’s over, he said.
What do you mean, Lent’s over?
To be honest, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that people gave things up for Lent temporarily. It never crossed my mind that after Easter, they all got to go back to drinking, smoking, and serial murder. I mean, if a thing’s a sin, isn’t it a sin all year around?
Nope. What they really meant was, I gave up smoking for the duration of Lent.
And fine. I admit that giving up smoking for a month is better than not giving it up at all. That probably is one to think about giving up permanently.
And maybe I really hadn’t thought much about it. I mean, if people give things up for Lent, and never go back, shouldn’t there be a bunch of really old Catholics running around living off water and oatmeal after a lifetime of Lents, and griping that this year, it’s down to the oatmeal?
So, happy Lent, everyone, and if you’re giving up something truly unhealthy, please think of your lungs and aortas–and hell, your erectile function–and maybe really do give it up confused-teenager style.
**this story may have been edited for dramatic tension and coherence.