Today’s the day of Carnival for many, one last explosion of music and joy and excess before the clock ticks over into the ashes of Lent. Feasting passes the baton to fasting and, if you’re of a sacrificial bent, you have just hours to decide what needs to be set aside for the next forty days.
Me? I know what I have to give up. I don’t have the healthiest relationship with food. I stop off at the supermarket on my way home and buy chocolate or sandwiches that I don’t need. And this is stupid of me, because most of the time I’m not hungry, and because I’m a sedentary office worker who is putting on weight, and because all those extra pounds are bound to be aggravating my sleep apnea. I sit in the car, eating; “Okay, this is the last time,” I say, but it never is. A thousand commuting carnivals that never give way to Lent.
None of this is about hunger, nor is it about fuel. If anything it’s medication, I guess, something that fires up a hormone in some gland or whatever that makes me feel… I’m not sure what. Not good, not really. Numb? The comfort of a familiar habit? Because I suffer from depression and anxiety, and over-eating gives me something to focus on than my own thoughts, my own fears, my own lurking anticipations.
So Lent 2020 is less than a spiritual practice, more like a floating plank I need to grab hold of. We domesticate sacrifice sometimes, give up something we don’t really need to give up but that sounds good when we talk about it on a Sunday over coffee. But then there are the times that the sacrifice has to look more like Abel’s than Cain’s, times when it has to mean something real for the sake of my body, my heart, my soul. There’s a scared voice that tells me I’m of no worth, that tempts me with revelations of coming disaster and the anesthesia of despair, and I naively try and momentarily stop that with an all-day breakfast sandwich. Often the Co-op looms larger than the Cross.
So I’m writing this on Shrove Tuesday with a feeling that’s halfway between honesty and self-indulgence. This is just how I process things, and I throw the thoughts out there in the hope that they’ll be recognisable to someone who needs to know they’re not alone. I tap my phone with a pen top and the thoughts become words and that makes them real somehow. And they need to be real to me, for the sake of my health, for the health of my soul. Tomorrow is the Day of Ashes but everything feels like ashes lately. No, tomorrow starts a journey that leads somewhere more True than food and lies. And here I sit, staring at my walking boots, to scared to put them on, too scared not to.