Forty Days

“We can’t eat this bird.”

“What? Oh God, is it Lent again already?”

Matthew Broderick as Phillipe and Leo McKern as Imperius in Ladyhawke

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. A time of reflection, penance, fasting, abstinence—all meant to recall the forty days Jesus spent in the desert and his rejection of the devil’s temptations. Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday—wouldn’t exist without Ash Wednesday. It’s a time of feasting and celebration before you have to give it all up.

White Sands, New Mexico, August 1987. I only spent one day there. That shadow is either Mom or Dad (not the devil).
White Sands, New Mexico, August 1987. I only spent one day there. That shadow is either Mom or Dad (not the devil).

It’s funny how Christians are taught all about Jesus’s Lent, but not his Mardi Gras. I have to imagine he had one. I’m no bible scholar, but I think one of the Gospels has him around the Jordan River before he entered the wilderness. Maybe he was with family there, and there was another wedding, like the one at Cana. Lots of wine and dancing and celebration.

In terms of my personal observance of Lent, I fall in line with Leo McKern’s fabulous portrayal of the monk Imperius in Ladyhawke. (One of my favorite Richard Donner movies; one of my favorite movies, period. Deserving of its own blog post, but for here, suffice it to say this dated cinematic gem from 1985 has stayed with me at a very integral level.)

Like Imperius, I don’t exactly embrace Lent’s inconveniences, but I also don’t ignore them. Believing in a forgiving and non-judgmental God, I don’t necessarily feel an obligation to observe Lent. I view it more as an opportunity to observe. It’s rare that I complete a Lenten season without feeling a tad wiser for the experience.

Several years ago, early on in this writing journey of mine, I made the resolution to write every day during Lent. I wrote a lot of dribble and useless stuff, and I didn’t quite understand how that habit could make me a better writer. I went back to taking long breaks from writing after that Lent was over.

It would be another year before Robert Olen Butler’s words had their profound impact on me: if I were at all serious about writing, I would have to write every day. But would have I been as ready to receive that message if not for that earlier Lenten exercise?

This year’s Lenten resolution is to de-clutter. In the past year, between clearing out Mom’s house, working at my sad Picard job, and trying to complete The Incident Under the Overpass, things have started to pile up. It’s gotten hard to maneuver in our guest bedroom (which doubles as my writing workshop). Add leftover wrapping from Christmas and the remains of my efforts at making throws for Mardi Gras, and it’s too embarrassing to share via photo.

I’m on track to deliver the (final?!) manuscript to my fantastic editor Shelley within the next week, so once that’s done, I will dedicate the time needed to clear out the detritus that’s accumulated while I’ve been so focused on doing stuff.

And that gets me to why I appreciate Lent. It’s the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of all the things that have happened while you’ve been busy. Busy either making your life happen, or busy trying to juggle all your obligations so you can be a part of the important stuff.

I’m pretty sure no one’s ever said, “Hey, remember that great time we had, giving up chocolate for forty days?” But they do say, “Remember what a great time we had, drinking chocolate wine and cutting up?” Lent provides me the space to savor the connections and the camaraderie that occurred when I was too busy to pay attention. I know for me, they wouldn’t seem as sweet without that time to reflect.

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