An advantage for us seniors at Lent is our exemption from fasting and abstinence, although, if still able, we are welcome to join in the practice of Lenten sacrifice. So what do I deny myself this time around?
Finding myself hard-pressed to find anything as a fitting sacrifice, I thought that, in lieu of self-denial, I’d be more positive and do something for others.
At lunch the other day with my only daughter, Gia, it became obvious to me what she herself had given up for Lent: She passed up dessert. Then it gave me a chance to tell her about my own case. She thought I was missing the point; as she understood it, the sacrifice called for entails self-denial—giving up something. She also found it hard to believe there wasn’t anything I liked badly enough that would qualify for giving up.
Well, there are actually a lot, but none, it seems, could hurt the way the sacrifice is meant to do; some, in fact, would even be quite beneficial to me. Anyway, I thought about it some more and went through a whole list of candidates—going to the movies, watching TV, eating out.
But where’s the sacrifice when the alternatives are just as enjoyable—preferring the productive quiet of home writing to going to the movies, or sitting down to a home-cooked meal instead of eating out, or reading a book instead of watching TV.
Maybe I’ve collected so much hindsight at my age, that what normally looks like a sacrifice, in time, becomes, for me, a benefit. All those years of Lenten fasting and abstinence from meat could well be the reason I’m still around and relatively healthy.
Now, even if I wanted to, I could eat only so much meat or, for that matter, so much of anything else (and for that alone I should really deserve my 20-percent senior discount and exemption from the 12-percent VAT). Indeed, I realize that all the self-denial I’ve done in my life, at Lent or at any other season, has done me good.
While I concede that going out of my way to be a better person, or doing something that would only benefit someone else, is hardly a sacrifice, I also see it as requiring such tremendous effort, a toll on my residual energy, it should qualify. But then again, it’s end benefit of erasing karma or earning indulgences to deduct from my sentential years in Purgatory would still be at issue.
Still, surely, there must be something I can let go of that would really hurt, never mind if in the end I benefit from it, since that seems the pattern of life anyway.
In one of my examinations of conscience at the end of the day, it came to me: How about giving up something negative that I feel entitled to, like righteous anger, of which I happen to be harboring an overflow at the moment?
The sense of discomfort at the very thought of dropping it should be a sure sign I’m on the right path; in fact, it feels like a sacrifice in its purest sense, for it hurts where one is truly vulnerable—the ego.
Then, as though arranged by Providence to jumpstart my plan, I received a perfectly timed e-mail from an objective emissary calling my attention to an offense I had caused. As I began, habitually, to defend myself vigorously in my mind, the sense of my Lenten sacrifice struck: by accepting the criticism graciously I’d be giving up anger, righteous or not.
It was not exactly a total surrender, just a willingness to realize I have hurt the feelings of some people and resolve to be more sensitive and circumspect in the future. And it felt right because I knew I was hurting; my mouth and throat had dried up, although soon enough the Pollyanna in me was climbing back up again seeing the “so-called” sacrifice as both a humbling and learning experience, and feeling grateful for it.
I realized I had been looking for sacrifice in the wrong places, among the things I like most in the world, the really corny or irrelevant stuff—spending quiet times with my husband, just the two of us, reading together or just listening to music; being with my children and my grandchildren; mutually energizing conversations with old friends, especially when recollections bring laughter. These are my life’s harvests, all mine to keep.
My daughter, Gia, was right; I do have a tendency to look at things beyond their intended parameters, which makes me quite the filosofa pesada—the heavy philosopher. And providing a sort of ultimate understanding of the simplicity of it all, she told me about her youngest daughter.
A five-foot-six, 16-year-old budding beauty, Maita has had no trouble deciding what supreme sacrifice to make for Lent: She’s abstaining from Japanese food—that, for her, we very well know, must really hurt.