Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. For most people on the planet, it had little significance. But for Catholics the world over, it marked the first day of Lenten season, the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
They are, without a doubt, the longest 40 days in any Catholicís life. And not only because there are actually 47 days. (Apparently weíre not supposed to count the Sundays. Something my CCD teachers neglected to mention.)
Easter is, of course, a time of celebration and renewal. Lent is the antithesis; a time of prayer, fasting and self-sacrifice. The period is meant to signify the time Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness resisting the temptations placed before him by Satan. (Do I have that right, Aunt Kathleen?) And in recognition of that, Catholics do some resisting of temptation of their own.
We have our big blow-out bash on Fat Tuesday, a.k.a. Mardi Gras, and then on Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten fast. While the most devout take this truly to heart, your ordinary, every day Catholic (like moi) does two things.
We give up eating meat on Fridays (hence the preponderance of fish frys this time of year) and we give up something. By this I mean, we attempt to abstain from something near and dear to our hearts. Like chocolate. Or booze. Or Facebook.
For the last few years Iíve given up buying books for Lent. Laugh if you will, but for an avid bibliophile like myself, it truly is the ultimate sacrifice. Of late, Iíve done a lot to tone down my book-buying habits and become a devotee of my favorite book-lending institution, the Oxford Memorial Library. And when I contemplated what to give up this year, I realized it wouldnít be enough of a sacrifice.
I went through the list of old stand-bys Ė booze, chocolate, caffeine, etc. Ė but none seemed appropriate. I really donít drink enough to make booze a worthy sacrifice. Giving up caffeine or chocolate certainly would be, but I have to consider the effect of my choice on those around me. (I can hear my coworkers fidgeting around me, as if through some sixth sense they know I even considered this.)
And then, suddenly, it came to me: I should give up swearing.
You see, I have what some people would refer to as a potty mouth.
Much to the chagrin of my mother, I might add, who is known to whip out her ďNo daughter of mineĒ speech when I exhibit language which would make a truck driver proud.
Why do I choose to pepper my speech with such scurrilous turns of phrase? My seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Fisher, always said swearing was a sign of laziness on the part of the speaker. But for me, it was always about shock value.
I was a goody-two shoes. I always got top marks, and never got in trouble. My mother dressed me in, well, dresses for more years than I care to admit. (Thank you, Kristen, for reminding me of that fact. Happy Birthday, by the way.)
I longed to be unconventional, to make a few waves. To do the unexpected. And in Middle School, I finally managed to do that, by saying the unexpected. Thus began my superfluous use of colorful four-letter words.
I still use them for effect. But, I have to admit Mr. Fisher was right to a certain extent, when Iím tired or stressed, my internal filter slips even more than usual. Hence my reputation as the ES potty mouth. And the growing regularity of my motherís shocked gasps of exasperation. Which is why I thought it so fitting to give up this regrettable habit for Lent.
Now, some people do a little bingeing on Mardi Gras, a last hoorah of sorts before Lent starts. But youíll be happy to know that I didnít have some kind of Tourretteís episode, a la The Kingís Speech, to get it all out of my system. Instead I tried to wean myself off slowly. So far, I donít think anyone has noticed.
I did, however, go on an all-out binge for the other thing Iím giving up: Bottled water. Really I was just trying to exhaust my supply. Iím going to try to go green with my water consumption for the next 40 days. Since Iím never without at least one bottle always at the ready, Iím not sure which will be more of a challenge.
Giving up swearing like a sailor will be tough, but it could also be rather entertaining. And a good exercise, too, from a vocabulary standpoint. Without the option of going for the vulgar expletives which come so readily to my tongue, Iíll have to be a little more creative with my word choice.
Maybe I should keep a dictionary, or a thesaurus, handy. A nice, pocket size to carry in my purse, perhaps. I donít have one that quite fits the bill, so a quick trip to First Edition might be necessary.
Good thing I didnít give up buying books this year!
So, what are you giving up for Lent?
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