I have never celebrated Mardi Gras. The closest I have come to Mardi Gras are these purple beads a friend of mine has strung over an ivy in her room. And I believe I saw an episode of “The Real World” once in which Mardi Gras was happening. But every episode of “The Real World” seems like Mardi Gras is happening.
I am more acquainted with the day after.
There is something phenomenally humbling about a man in robes telling you that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day anticipation of Easter, when Catholics of all kinds, Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians and any other Christian denomination caring to dabble in the liturgical, submit themselves to a season of disciplined penitence.
Garrison Keillor tells a story of a man who is so obsessed with the cigarettes he has given up that he ends up running into his daughter as he is searching for cigarettes that may have fallen into the cracks of the radiator in his house. He is in such a daze that he whips around and plows right into her. She needs stitches. Ash Wednesday happens to fall the next week, and he is consumed utterly with the fact of his wretchedness as a human being.
And that is the strange beauty of Lent. There is something remarkable and strangely comforting about being among a group of people so utterly consumed with their wretchedness. Misery loves company.
My life is a wretched one. I do mediocre work, usually getting fairly good grades or results, but not actually throwing myself into things the way I should. I put things off. I am sarcastic. I use humor at other people’s expense. I overeat.
And amid all my self-involvement, there are huge things going on in the world. Huge things that shape who we are, and where we will go as a society. Saturday evening, a suicide bomber killed three and wounded 16 other Israelis in a pizzeria in Israel.
The war in Afghanistan is still very much a viable thing. British peacekeepers in Kabul came under fire Saturday, indicating further tensions in a region riddled with turmoil. And, in Estes Park this weekend, a Boulder teen shot two girls, and then killed himself in his uncle’s vacation home.
And I am so consumed by shallowness that in a weekend crammed with national and worldwide violence, all I am concerned with are the intricacies of American dating.
Intricacies like: I haven’t know Boy X for even as long as I have been attending this semester’s classes, and yet I am already trying out my first name with his last. Or: Let’s say you start off a relationship with a little dishonesty. And not even a dishonesty that leads Boy X astray into thinking you are more wonderful than you are, but still something that is less than honest. Do you let it go? Do you hope it never comes up and be more careful next time? Or do you tell him tonight before you vomit your dinner out because there’s not enough room in your stomach for your lasagna and the guilt that’s residing there?
As my mom once said in her college geology class, to the man who would later become my father, “The whole world is falling apart, and all we can do is talk about rocks.”
How true that is. And so, as I try to put my shallowness aside and focus on the bigger picture, I encourage you to do the same in this Lenten season. Let pettiness fall away to reveal the bigger things.
Man thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return –
Sarah Laribee is a 2nd Bachelor’s student in English Education, and is currently in the throes of angst over Boy X.