I started this post prior to the Freshly Pressed attention, but it seems even more relevant in the wake of all the buzz. Yesterday was my first Ash Wednesday Mass in probably about six years. I’m a cultural Catholic (a term I prefer to cafeteria Catholic or lapsed Catholic), someone who attends church intermittently, who never quite makes all the holy days of obligation and who is never quite fully versed in all the rituals and practices, despite being the valedictorian of my CCD cohort. Even with all of my Catholic baggage, I was particularly moved by the relevance of yesterday’s sermon.
As a child we were encouraged to see Lent as a sacrifice of something pleasurable, a way to appreciate suffering on a smaller scale (deprive yourself of chocolate or Saturday Morning Cartoons) and as a teenager we used this as a time to work on lapsed New Year’s Resolutions (lose ten pounds or give up smoking). When I went to college, we had a pretty cool hippie priest who had a social justice interpretation of the Bible and encouraged us to perform acts of community service. I preferred this interpretation and I wish that I had a great story to share about the process of becoming a more altruistic person, but I don’t think I ever fully gave of my time in the way that Father Bob intended.
When I was at Mass yesterday, I contemplated what I would give up for Lent and interrogated each choice, fearful that I wouldn’t be able to fully live whatever I chose. The sermon took an unexpected turn when the priest suggested that we look inward for Lent and to sacrifice our time by letting go of an all consuming trait…jealousy…sloth…guilt. When he said guilt, he had my full attention. I may not be a perfect Catholic, but I have the guilt part down pat!
He encouraged us to remember that we are all slow works in progress and perhaps this Lent we should resolve to live without regrets. By not consuming ourselves with guilt, we would open up our time and allow for a more productive existence. We can’t be kind to others, until we are kind to ourselves. It’s the notion that if you experience a loss of cabin pressure when you are on an airplane with a small child, your first duty is to put on your own oxygen mask. You won’t be able to secure the mask of your child, unless yours is fully fastened.
One of the things about aging and about becoming 30 that so many of my friends discuss is the desire to be secure, to be fully formed in the shape of whoever they thought they’d be by 30. Thirty, I am realizing, is a rather arbitrary number. There is just an overwhelming sense among my friends, of all ages, that the goals we have set for ourselves seem quite impossible to realize, maybe more so now in the particular economic climate than at any other point in recent memory. When my parents were 30 they had the careers that would sustain them to retirement; they owned a home; they were starting a family. Not any of my trentaginarian friends have all of those balls lined up. It’s not that my parents were smarter or more privileged, it’s that they were living in a different time. Even in the illusion of fully formed perfection, they were still a work in progress.
As a child of the Clinton years, I watched Tuesday’s PBS documentary on Clinton to both relive my childhood and to better understand the events of that moment in history. What shocked me about Part 1 was how little I knew about Clinton’s professional background and how many times he had lost local elections before the presidency. At 30 he was far more successful than most people that I know, but he was also failing at various things, at a significant pace. If you took a screen shot of Clinton at 30, you wouldn’t have imagined his future successes. In his own way, Clinton was aware that he was a work in progress, by self-identifying as the Comeback Kid.
So for those of you who have been reading and commenting on the trials and tribulations of aging, remember: We Are A Work In Progress, at any age. Be patient with others, but most of all, be patient with yourself. This is what I will be trying to do over these next forty days.