It’s about excess and about privation.
Today, some acquaintances and I went to another town to visit a priest who used to be in our parish, one we admired and loved. I’d had difficulty making petsitter arrangements and commented on that recurring problem.
“Dogs?” scoffed an elderly lady, widowed twice. “I don’t want any dogs, no pets, no responsibilities.” Understandable. She’s blessed with family and friends who love her a great deal, but at this point, being able to go anywhere anytime at will is what’s most important to her. I’ve seen this attitude in other elderly friends. It’s especially understandable if a mate suffered a long illness before passing, but even if that’s not the case, just having raised, more or less successfully, a number of children is cause for feeling that one deserves freedom from perceived “responsibility.” They’ve had excess of a kind and are more than ready for a little privation.
For some reason, the remark reminded me of a woman I knew many years ago. She was a spinster, weighed over 300 pounds; she was quite unattractive, and she was middle-aged. She also had a remarkably disagreeable personality. Perhaps I need to confess this to a priest (it wasn’t charitable), but when she cleared her throat and announced that she had decided to take a vow of chastity, it was hard to fight the impulse to smile. I wanted to say (but didn’t, thank heaven), “Debbie, that’s like me saying that I’ll give up meat for Lent.” (I’m a vegetarian.)
The connection between Debbie’s vow and the comment today by the elderly lady is, I admit, obscure. But it’s there. The pearls one woman discarded as excess another woman surrendered all hope of ever having for herself. Not even a single one.
What do we have in excess? Of what are we deprived? No question is trickier, more demanding of real self-honesty, to think about what our excesses and privations really are. My elderly friend saw her deceased husband, her children, as “responsibility” and she felt deprived of “freedom.” I won’t presume to examine that point for view in search of truth or virtue, but I can easily say it’s one I do not share. On the other hand, I knew that my 300-pound acquaintance was a romantic. At middle-age, to give up the fantasy I knew she’d long cherished, and to embrace a looming old age alone was a privation of monumental proportion.
And so, the “understandable” wish for freedom from a woman who had apparently never known that the responsibility she’d disdained was, in fact, the greatest human blessing, is actually, in my mind, quite pitiable. Because she has no opportunity now to learn from her experience. But Debbie’s vow, on the other hand, is just plain admirable. Perhaps it was even heroic. Only God knows.
What do we give up for Lent? And what do we take up? Whatever it is, let’s not tell anybody.