Today is Ash Wednesday, the Lenten kickoff, a 40-day period of abstinence and sacrifice that bears a startling resemblance to the COVID-19 lockdowns, except nowhere near as lengthy in duration.
What are you going to give up for Lent? Going to the movies? Going to bars? Going out to dinner in the actual interior of a restaurant rather than in the parking lot? Going to the ballgame, never mind what kind of ball? Traveling abroad? Going on endless luxury cruises? Playing on playground equipment? Hanging out with people outside your protective pod?
People all over the world have been living the Lenten for over a year, though it’s largely been a series of mandated, involuntary sacrifices, which automatically takes the sacrificial element out of the deal. You don’t get any indulgences for quitting doing something you’re not allowed to do.
The Lenten experience has traditionally been a mostly Catholic endeavor, though other religions also practice it, as do dedicated atheists who treat the 40-day sacrifice as an abbreviated, non-secular New Year’s Resolution.
With all of the sacrifices already heaped upon us during the coronavirus era, those who are looking for a Lenten project will have to pick through their meager allowances to find something to give up for the next 40 days.
First, a word about Lenten loopholes: Those who are more familiar with the calendar will note that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, an undeniable fact. But in Catholicism, Sundays are bye days, when you can do whatever you like and ignore your chosen Lenten sacrifice (by the same token, or, rather a totally different token, Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent are days of fasting, though “fasting” is a bit of a misnomer because you’re allowed one full meal and two half-meals that in their sum cannot exceed what you would consider a full meal).
In addition to the anything-goes Sundays, some observers have taken to attaching more codicils to their sacrifices. My late cousin Sherman annually gave up drinking during Lent, save for two “wildcard” days. One, he used for St. Patrick’s Day and the other he usually squandered early in the season, like Ash Thursday.
Although Lent is a period of sacrifices, it’s been pointed out by many people that you don’t necessarily have to give anything up in observance of the period. You can also do good things that maybe you wouldn’t be anxious to do otherwise, such as committing various acts of kindness and charity.
These can be anything as simple (though perhaps somewhat painful) as being more patient with certain of your fellow workers, giving comfort to the homeless by giving them a jacket, a sandwich or a blanket instead of just scowling at them, helping an elderly neighbor or relative with navigating the city’s computerized vaccination system and then accompanying them to their appointment. It’s an easy and good way to live your life for the next few weeks—and remember, you don’t have to take Sundays off from being generous; that’s just another loophole, but you don’t have to use it.
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