Today is Ash Wednesday, for all you Catholics out there. For you non-Catholics, today is one of the three days argued to be Single Awareness Day. (Because, apparently, y’all can’t settle on one unanimously and are, instead, having what almost equates to Single Awareness Week. What next? Single Awareness Fortnight?)
But I digress. Ash Wednesday is a holy day of obligation, a day for prayer, fasting, and meditation.
Catholics are instructed to eat no meat on Ash Wednesday and are required by the laws of Cathol to consume fish instead.
My Catholic partner and crime and I will be observing the day by eating sushi ….because we take the Pope seriously and all. (.....or as seriously as any American woman who takes birth control and supports both Gay Marriage and women in the pulpit can.) But who says one can’t be decadent while being devout?
Well, nuns, probably. But I ain’t no nun.
For many people, Ash Wednesday is the official kickoff for Fish Fry Season. And do not discount this, kittens. Fish Fry Season is every bit as important as Football Season, Hunting Season, and the ever mythical Open Season. …It also happens to correspond nicely with March Madness, so you can yell at your team while shoveling fried cod down your gullet, pausing only to swill some beer, scream about someone having “p*ssy knees” (And no, that doesn't say “pissy.”), and order more hush-puppies. It is a glorious time to be alive.
In all seriousness, though, Ash Wednesday brings up a lot of emotions for me, as it does for many people.
My mom is a devout Catholic who was raised by devout Catholics. I love the tradition. I love the rituals. I love the feeling of belonging to something that big and that reaching.
But this whole “giving up” thing? That’s just gotta go.
Ok, kittens – put your pitchforks down. The whole problem with “giving up” is that, for most people (myself included), it goes the way of New Year’s Resolutions, which is to say that within 6 days of giving up chocolate and carbonated beverages, you find yourself in a dark corner of the break room shame-eating a Kit-Kat Bar and washing it down with a Sprite. I know all about it. It’s hard. It’s ridiculously hard to give up. But that’s not the point. Even if you are successful, it's moot, because what difference does it make? (Again, pitchforks down until the end of the post.)
Ask my mom. Not only is my mother the Master of Catholic Shame-Based Guilt Tripping(and I am eagerly learning at her feet), but she is also the Master of Catholic Shame-Based Lenten Deprivation, i.e. psychological torture. Or, at least, she used to be. When I was a chunky middle-schooler, I gave up Little Debbie Zebra Cakes for Lent. I love them so much, but I listened to the homily at school mass about sacrificing the things we love for Lent. And I loved Zebra Cakes.
In fact, as a chunky hormonally round lardy middle schooler, the things I loved most went in this order:
1. My parents
2. My sister
3. Mr. Max, the crotchety poodle
4. Little Debbie Zebra Cakes
5. Jewel (As in “My hands are small, I know….”)
6. CATS the musical (As in, “So that’s why none of the boys ever call you….”)
7. Little Debbie Swiss Rolls
8. Strawberry Milk
(This is probably the wrong part in the story to tell you that I ate enough Little Debbie to collect enough Proofs of Purchase to send off for not one, not two, but all three of the Little Debbie Collector Edition Barbie Dolls. Believe me – no shame is as great as mine. And no feeling more sublime that biting into that animal-fat-stuffed divinity. Oh, Zebra Cakes - how your obesity-causing lusciousness cuts right to the quick of me.)
(Yes, that’s right – lusciousness.)
Anyway, I told my mom not to buy them during Lent. They didn't sell them at my school and if they weren't in my house, I’d never have to come in contact with them. Suck it, Lent. But my mother had other plans. She said, “Well it’s not really giving something up if it’s not tempting to you, is it? If I just don’t buy them anymore, what are you really giving up?”
And that saint of a woman kept 3 boxes in the house for the entirety of Lent.
I am proud to say that I have the willpower of a recovering addict in a coke den. (Or something like that. I watch a lot of documentaries but don’t really have a lot of personal experience. As you might have noticed.) I didn’t touch those Zebra Cakes. I did shame-eat a Moon-Pie at a friend’s house because I thought it would be a decent substitute.
But did I learn anything? I’d love to say that I did. I’d love to say that I learned about sacrifice, and how going without can deepen a person’s faith and appreciation for the things they have. I’d love to say that I was so inspired by the experience that I didn't eat a Zebra Cake ever again and that I am better off for it.
I would love to say that on Easter Sunday I didn't eat 6 Zebra Cakes and then puke them all up.
Believe me – I would love to. But I can’t, so I won’t. Did I learn anything at all? Of course. I learned that:
1. Eating 6 of anything is never a good idea. Unless they’re carrots. Or another type of plant. Or tequila shots. But no more than 6. You know the old adage: 1 Tequila, 2 Tequila, 3 Tequila Floor! 5 Tequila 6 Tequila 7 Tequila Bitch You’d Best Stop Making Out With That Man Because He Has a Tramp Stamp And A Purse-Dog Named Taquito.
(Note: I am not encouraging you to take 6 tequila shots. Let the record reflect that this is a humor blog, so if you do take 6 tequila shots and end up carrying the baby of some Swedish porn star, I am not legally responsible for you, your porn baby, or your hangover. Just wanted to clear that up so that the lawyers don’t have to get involved.)
2. I maybe possibly kinda sort-of have an unhealthy relationship with food. But I’m working on it.
3. Moon Pies ≠ Zebra Cakes
My mom has since changed her tune. Now, instead of encouraging her students, children, and husband to give something up for Lent, she encourages us to give something instead. She tells her students to unload the dishwasher every day without being asked. To not fight with their siblings. She tells them that other good ideas would be to donate canned goods to the needy, volunteer, babysit for free, send cards to shut-ins, and contribute to humanity in other, equally awesome ways.
I think that’s the ticket. Shame-induced deprivation doesn’t do anything more than make you feel like a total asshole when you fail. Which you will. Eventually, you will fail because you’re human. And by now, you should be ok with that. I've learned a lot from my mom and her evolution as a Catholic. She's far more liberal than she would probably be willing to admit and believes that there's no place for shame in faith, that we fall short and then attempt to be better, that we should do good deeds because we aspire to be good human beings, not because we will feel ashamed or face ridicule if we don't. She has taught me, in a nutshell, that giving of ourselves is far more important that giving up for ourselves - because who does that help? No one.
You’ll be happy to know that this year for Lent I will be giving up wheat.
Haha, just kidding. A little Catholic Celiac humor for your Wednesday.
Ok, fine. It wasn’t that funny.
Couldn’t you just pretend to laugh?
Honestly, that would have been a charitable act.
No? Not funny enough to deserve your chuckles? Fine. I didn’t need them anyway.
Okay, I desperately seek your chuckles. Give me the chuckles. I need! I need!
Wow. That escalated quickly.
Anyways, I have decided to take a leaf out of the Second Edition of Suze’s Lenten Prescription. What will I be giving? I’m so glad you asked! This Lent, I will:
1. Not yell at Carter for doing weird man things.
2. Collect canned goods for the local soup kitchen.
3. Buy at least one coffee for the homeless man who sells newspapers by my house.
4. Call my parents more.
5. Not “Tardar Sauce” Carter for telling me we can’t get a dog.
6. Not think hateful things when my neighbors leave shopping carts all over the hallway.
7. Save and then donate $25 to charity (I’m broke, remember?)
8. Go to the Dentist.
9. Drag Carter to the Dentist.
10. Not curse at the Dentist in my mind.
11. Exercise so that I can live to torment Carter until we’re 90. Or to infinity and beyond!
12. Bake homemade pretzels for Carter, even though they are full of gluten and take 4 hours to make, thereby torturing and aggravating me at the same time.
My optometrist friend and bridesmaid would also like me to take this opportunity to ask you to go have your yearly eye exam as part of your Lenten devotions. Really people, the Lord wants you to see if you can. I’m sure. (Don’t quote me on that. You’d have to contact His publicist for more information. I can only glean from the Bible that he wants people to see. That seems to be fairly important.)
So whether you’re a good Catholic and observe all of the holy days of obligation and will be giving up and/or giving of for Lent, a Diet Catholic who will be celebrating Fish Fry Season kickoff tonight and every subsequent Friday and kinda-sorta giving up, or a “Quasi-Heathen” Catholic like myself who will be giving, accidentally eat meat on a Friday…or 3, and feel both regret and shame for not really getting to give up wheat for Lent because that would make you a huge badass to your friends rather than the reality, which is that you’re now that “poor girl who’ll never eat another O’Charley’s yeast roll again as long as she lives” – I hope that you find today and its meaning inspiring.
And whatever you do, do it because you feel good about doing it, not because you’ll be ashamed if you don’t. This isn’t 1560. We won’t shun you. But by giving of ourselves, we expand the reach of our web to touch more people and impact more lives. Which, if you ask me, is a hell of a lot better than hiding in a broom closet and putting forbidden foods in your face in secret while swearing to pray the rosary 30 times to make up for it as penance. We all know you're not going to pray the rosary 30 times. Ain't nobody got time for that.
From all of here at Nested, we hope that your Ash Wednesday be full of meaning, charity, and inspiration….. and cod. Lots of cod.
Happy Fish Fry Season, y’all.