Forty days of fun and frolic … not
Nine-hundred-plus-hours of suffering, self-denial and atonement for past transgressions.No I’m not describing my recent flight on Jet Blue; I’m speaking of the holy festival of Lent. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, Lent was like a religious Woodstock. But rather than “three days of fun and music,” we had 40 days of guilt and inconvenience. “Protestants don’t celebrate Lent; they are too busy playing tennis and water skiing.” That was an actual quote offered by my long-deceased, Irish grandmother. It was her response when asked why our neighbors, and my friends, the Anderson brothers did not go to church during the Easter Season. In truth, the Andersons had neither a boat nor tennis racquets. Mr. Anderson was a cop, and his wife drove a bus. I later learned they didn’t go to church on Sundays because, due to Mr. Anderson’s Sunday overtime shift, they mostly attended Saturday night services.I always felt a little sorry for my friends Carl, Lee and Paul Anderson. You see, not being Roman Catholic, they were going to have a harder time getting into Heaven than the rest of us – we learned that in Sunday school.I was torn, feeling both pity and envy for my non-Catholic friends, particularly during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Though we Catholics would have first dibs when it came to getting past Saint Peter, non-Catholics enjoyed a sense of secular freedom that I coveted.While I was required give something up for Lent, abstain from meat, and join my family in a nightly Rosary (a 40-minute prayer) my friends were free to enjoy the first warm evenings of spring. Every evening, as soon as the dinner dishes were washed, the eight of us would kneel in the living room and recite the Rosary. The Rosary is often divided into recitation of five of the 20 Holy Mysteries recounting the life of Christ. The “Mysteries” are interspersed with 12 prayers. Typically my mother would recite a “Mystery,” and one of the children would lead the family in – one “Our Father,” 10 “Hail Mary’s” and one “Glory Be.” The entire process could take close to one hour. My mother was the ringleader and the arbitrator of policy and protocol. My five siblings and I were required to kneel with our backs straight. My old man, after working a 10-hour day – not including a stop at the local pub on with way home – was allowed to drape his head and chest over the seat of his favorite chair as long as he was kneeling and did not sleep. Years later, when my family was forever altered by mental illness, dysfunction and addiction, I would look back on that time with some level of fondness. Piety cannot overcome bad genetics and a traumatic history, but I do believe it helped. In celebration of the 40-day countdown to Easter, the faithful are asked to abstain and offer-up penance. For many, this is a sincere demonstration of devotion; for my siblings and me, it was a process of posturing and one-upmanship. Living in a three-bedroom home with eight people, privacy was a problem. If, within a weak moment, you were to brag that you were giving up desserts, you were committed. My older brothers, being savvier, would relinquish stuff that was harder to keep track of – like bad acts and impure thoughts. At that age, I had an easier time forgoing confections than impure thoughts.After a long and cold East Coast winter, just when the weather was beginning to get nice, Lent rolls around For 40 days, I was stuck fasting, praying and abstaining from Twinkies while my friends could play outside after dinner until the street lights came on.My family’s Lenten tradition only lasted a few years. It wasn’t that my mother did not try. But as my siblings got older and more rebellious, my father spent more time on the job, and my mother’s failing health was no match for the situation. Today, I can no longer call myself a member of any particular organized religion. But when Ash Wednesday comes around and the season of Lent begins, I do try to take time to reflect on my blessings and recognize the bounty that I do not deserve – and even give-up something I love. But at my age, it’s easier now to give up impure thoughts than dessert.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.