When the hell is Ash Wednesday?

I’m embarrassed to admit I barely look at the calendar these days. In the three years since I left my job and the two years since the start of the pandemic, my relationship with the passing of time has changed. Today, for example, I thought it was the 19th. When my husband pointed out it was the 18th, I adjusted. I knew it was Friday, and that knowledge satisfied my daily functioning requirements.

My lack of attention to the constructs of days and months causes me to lose track of things sometimes. The shadowy memory of concert tickets purchased months ago lingers somewhere in the back of my mind. As the date approaches, I find myself digging through emails for dates and e-tickets. I should have tucked them into my Apple wallet way back when I bought them but I didn’t. I am sure I’ve missed something along the way. I think back to when I was employed and conscientious. Now I fly by the seat of my pants, and honestly, I’ve never felt freer, if not a little disoriented.

My upbringing etched one annual event deeply in my mind, and even if I ascribe to this newfound calendar-free existence, my guilty conscience, Catholic guilt, I’ll call it, kicks in. As the days and weeks of February pass, I keep waiting for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, but week after week, it never comes. I could look at the calendar. Instead, I wait for the official word to come to me organically, and today, it did. As a friend and I planned a writing meeting, she noted that the proposed day of our session was Ash Wednesday. I finally had my answer, although I was a bit shocked to find out that Ash Wednesday tipped into March this year. Mind blown.

Growing up, the nuns and my very devout mother taught me to “give up” something for Lent, and I did. Candy, cookies, and sweets of all kinds were verboten for the six weeks until Easter. My mother instituted an addendum: Sundays were exempt. I’m not positive her interpretation of Catholic doctrine was legit, but I embraced her thinking, nonetheless. I gorged myself on all of my favorites: Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, Hershey bars. Nothing sugar-based was left behind on my Sunday binge. Still, I never quite understood the connection between Lent and “giving stuff up.” The idea of not eating candy in response to Christ giving up his life seemed out of balance. 

As an adult, I view Lent differently. More than New Year’s Day, for me, Ash Wednesday marks the initiation of change–in habits, in self-discipline, in self-improvement. In the past, under the guise of sacrifice, I have denied myself the joy of shopping and declare places like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx off-limits. I have pledged to take a walk every day, in any weather. I mean, if Jesus could carry a cross, I could overcome plantar fasciitis for the sake of self-flagellation. This year, those sacrifices may not apply. There is nothing I need at TJ Maxx so I have no reason to go there. And although I may abandon my shopping sacrifice, I’m practically allergic to exercise, so for me to perform any type of physical activity is pretty godly, or at least, selfless. I’ll give that some additional thought.

As I consider what else to “give up for Lent,” I think of the things that make me happy. Denying happiness is what sacrifice is all about, isn’t it? Wine. I could give up wine. Or wine coolers, since I like them less. Or maybe just red wine, leaving white wine fair game. What about gummy bears, my long-standing Achilles heel and my guiltiest of pleasures? I’m not sure if God would be happy, but I know my dental hygienist would be. And when she wields those sharp instruments in the direction of my tender gums, for that hour, like God, she holds my fate in her hands. It’s definitely something to think about. 

Now that I know I have twelve days to plan my Lenten sacrifice, I may reconsider the somewhat easy TJ Maxx oblation. I’m tired and cold just thinking about walking anywhere. I doubt I could pull off withholding wine with the state of politics in our country.  Maybe I’ll reinstate the mite box, a throwback to my childhood in Catholic school. The mite box, a tiny cardboard container where I would toss in excess change and eventually donate the proceeds to a special cause, seems more godly, and it’s a lot cleaner than “giving something up.” It serves a greater purpose. In the true spirit of Lent, I think God would appreciate almsgiving over the idea of a Dry Lent, a missed opportunity on the clearance rack, or Haribo binge. Could it be I shed, along with my calendars, a little Catholic guilt, as well?

2 thoughts on “When the hell is Ash Wednesday?

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