Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick Takes: It's Lent!

1. I felt like titling this post: "Wake Up, Mother------, It's Lent!" but thought the better of it. Nonetheless, that's what I tell myself in the morning when my feet hit the floor.

2. I've used this picture before, but feel compelled to use it again. I am trying to consciously set Lent apart in my mind from ordinary time, but I have historically been bad at making any kind of distinction between Lent and the rest of the year. It all feels like Lent to me -- the daily sense of a kind of messy, uphill slog in semi-darkness in a barren landscape to a destination that's unknown and not expected to be much fun when I get there. I often feel, in my quotidian life and work, as if I'm hauling heavy stones up a steep hill, only to get them there and watch them tumble over the cliff into a bottomless void. Lent feels no different. I suppose it's up to me to make it different by punctuating my days with regular periods of prayer and by giving up small pleasures, something I usually resent doing. I hope and pray for a better disposition this year.

3. Lent is also a yearly time of personal mourning for me. Two dear friends of mine died in the middle of Lent in 2006 and 2007. During Lent 2007, I also had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, landing me in the hospital and necessitating emergency surgery, during which one of my ovaries was removed (it took several days to be correctly diagnosed, so, in my usual state of oblivion, I went on about my life, walking all over town, teaching my classes at the large public university where I was completing my doctorate, and filing a claim against a former landlord in Bronx County Court, while ignoring the pain that dogged my every step). Sometimes I feel quite lost without one of these friends in particular. He died right before the ectopic rupture, which happened one night at home, and, as I was lying there on the floor sweating and vomiting, I prayed to him to ask God to save my baby, but evidently it was not to be.

4. We are supposed to wait in "joyful expectation" for the coming of our Savior, another thing I'm lousy at.  I wonder how to do it. Is my usual habit of grimly expecting something not-so-nice just a habit? Can it be changed? Can I change my temperament and demeanor without becoming a complete, phony sap?  This year, we are waiting for Jude, and I will be happy when he's finally here. Nevertheless, I don't know if it's because of my general demeanor, or if it's an opinion formed from my own observations and experiences, but I don't buy into that happy-ever-after scenario about this or about anything. The adoption magazines -- like all parenting magazines, actually -- are full of stories of the wait over, the family and the individual completed, the loneliness soothed, the joy of union. I'm not sure I ever believed that was the expected outcome of any relationship. I like to think of myself as a realist, as someone who sees through what is false in our culture, but perhaps I'm just a cynic who has more in common with my southern Italian forebears than I like to think. Nonetheless, I wonder what happens after the airport.

5. I've decided to give up drinking this Lent. I've never done this before. My drinking, such as it is, is restricted to a glass of wine every night with dinner, but I love that glass of wine, and have come not only to expect it but also to see it as a reward for getting through the day. It wasn't a hard choice, though. I was hit with a stomach virus last week and couldn't even drink water, so my nightly habit fell rather naturally by the wayside. Now that I can eat and drink again, I weighed wine and coffee in the balance, and decided that, much as I love that glass of wine, I need coffee more.

6. When I was little, I never thought I'd grow up to drive a car. Not only was it not really necessary where I lived, but also I really hated cars. I hated their smell, both inside and out. As a child, I used to fantasize about ploughing over all the roads in the world and planting grass and trees there, leaving a small path for people to walk, returning the ugliness of industrialism and urban life to the peacefulness of a sort of William Morris-esque pastoral utopia.  But then I grew up to feel as if I needed the city as much as I now feel like I need that glass of wine or cup of coffee every day. And now I am, reluctantly, driving. I still feel unmoored, too light, when I'm behind the wheel. I filled up my gas tank yesterday for the first time, and managed to get gas all over my shoes and inside my pocketbook (being a city girl, I never leave my purse in the car, even when I'm filling it up with gas). I am going to try to incorporate the fact that I drive a car now into some sort of intentional Lenten practice.

7. A good and fruitful Lent to all.


Sally Thomas said...

The gas inside the pocketbook really does make me laugh, though I wouldn't have laughed much if it had happened to me. Which it very well could.

My husband once drove off with the nozzle still in the gas tank -- the hose popped off the pump, and gas spewed everywhere, but he was halfway down the street before he realized that that there was something flapping at the side of the car. When he went back to apologize, the woman behind the counter just looked at him grimly -- yeah, yeah -- and said something to the effect that people do stupid things like that all the time.

My kids still think that's the most hilarious thing they've ever heard.

Pentimento said...

The handbag reeks. It's totally unsalvageable. I've been debating whether to toss a pocket-sized 1923 edition of the English devotional The Garden of the Soul that I keep in my pocketbook and never use; it smells like gas, too.

Kimberlie said...

re wait being over and all the glossy magazines: real life has just begun. Yes, it is a relief to finally have jumped through all the hoops, but the real work of becoming mother and child, forever family has just begun, and if it's to be fruitful work, it will be hard. Worth it, but hard. :) Please do not judge your experience vs those glossy magazine articles. You will only feel terrible and the real truth is that no life is perfectly wonderful. Also, God knows your basic temperament, as He knew mine, and my children, as Jude will be for you, will both match your temperament and challenge you a bit. God knows exactly the kiddos that we need and need us.

Sorry about the handbag. I did have to smile about it but truly I would have been very upset initially if that had happened to me. I grew up in NJ where you couldn't pump your own gas but had to tell the attendant how much you wanted. I was 27 yrs old the first time I pumped my own gas after moving to Oklahoma and I know that I spilled my fair share on my shoes and the ground. Yuck!

ex-new yorker said...

#4. I simultaneously "relate" (people don't say that as much as they used to, do they? "I can relate") and think this is part of why I like you so much, yet wish it weren't so for you and even think things probably won't be as bad as you expect. Have a hard time applying that to myself though. I have already said, "This is not a good day. This is a terrible day" within earshot of my children, and have already found myself wondering about the prudence of taking on my main Lenten penance, even though it involves giving up something I should have been doing a lot less of in general.

Mac said...

#2 in your list is great.

Yeah, I thought when I read about the gas that you would never be able to use that purse again. The smell of gasoline is both really persistent and really hard to live with.

I'm giving up coffee this year. That's really harder than alcohol for me, because I'm not addicted to alcohol.

Pentimento said...

I got a lot of compliments on that handbag, but the shoulder strap was fraying. And -- coincidence? -- the day before the gas incident, I found an old one in a box of stuff I was giving away and thought I still wanted it. So not too much harm done.

Anonymous said...

Rolling stones up the lonely hill
It's all been done before Sisyphus

Keep on keeping on Pentimento
If life was easy, everyone would do it

Sean O

Mac said...

By the way, I didn't mean for that to sound like I think you *are* addicted to alcohol. I was going to limit my drinking to Saturday night for Lent, but after one day back at work following five off, I'm reconsidering.

Coffee has a much more immediate hold on me, but if I had to give up one or the other permanently, I'd let it be coffee.

Pentimento said...

That's okay, Mac, I didn't take it that way. I took the easy way out with alcohol, actually. Maybe I should give up coffee too. But I REALLY love it, and that's why I haven't. The last time I tried that for Lent, I lasted three days.

Philomena Ewing said...

Your description of the quotidian Sisyphus feeling is well described and is with me too, particularly when the state of world events seems ever worse. I did started off with some good intentions this week and by the end of the day,wondered why I bother.
I am sorry that this time is particularly hard for you because of your losses - so very hard.
But your spirit comes out as so strong in your writing. I loved your child's wishes to replace the roads with nature too but how the city has become a friend in later years.

JMB said...

Lent is hard for me too - 4 years ago my dad dropped dead of a heart attack the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. So my Lent was really personalized that year and all the "giving up" sweets seemed really stupid to me. Anyway, I'm a Jersey Girl and last New Years, on the way home from visiting friends near Cooperstown I had to pump gas and couldn't figure out how to open the gas tank nuzzle. I just stood there like an idiot until the nice attendant came outside and did it for me. It sucks not knowing how to do something that most people know how to do.
Good luck with the adoption. My neighbor has two boys from Korea and a daughter from China. They're beautiful! You'll be fine.

Pentimento said...

I'm sorry about your father, JMB. That is horrible.

I actually went into the mini-mart part of the gas station and told the young wizened Appalachian dude and the old wizened Appalachian dude that I was pumping gas for the first time, and, please, how do you do it? Young dude explained it to me, old dude came out to help me get started, but then he went back in, and I squeezed the trigger or something as I was pulling out the nozzle. I even asked old dude if he could tell from a glance at my car (2000 Ford Prizm) how much gas would be half a tank. They were really nice about it.