I have the most vivid dreams. I don’t dream as much, that I can remember, when I stay up late or sleep less than 7 hours. Lately, though, I’ve been making an enormous effort to get to bed before 10:00pm so that I can be up by shortly before 6:00am. The result of which has been dreams. Crazy dreams, scary dreams, bizarre dreams. So many dreams, but none more memorable than one during the early hours of Thursday morning.
My mother and I, as well as teachers from school, were invited to a private audience with Pope Francis. After the audience, we lead him in a procession into mass. Obviously, all of us involved considered this a huge honor. In my dream, I spent quite a bit of time shopping for the best, most flattering outfit. I ended up wearing a dress from Target. That’s not the punchline; I actually rather like the dress. The coral and yellow striped beach hat was another story. Not even dreams could make that hat acceptable.
We were lined up with the Pope who, in my dream, was petite and friendly. Big church doors opened–I think my mind inserted Westminster Abbey–and Pope Francis turned to me and said, “Here we go! Are you ready?”
I said yes, even though I felt anything but ready.
Suddenly, as often happens in dreams, we were in the sanctuary. This sanctuary was different. It was circular, like the old 360° stages used in MTV Unplugged, only enormous. The stage held comfy leather sofas at least two deep. And chairs, also comfy, but more like something you’d see in a doctor’s office. Needless to say, we were all excited about the sofas and chairs.
I approached the softest looking sofa but was surprised to find a man stretched out and fast asleep. How rude of him, I thought, to be at this important mass, in a place of honor, only to drool all over the furniture. To say nothing about wasting the best seat in the house! My mom and I shared a glance of annoyance.
We kept moving. I saw two chairs that were empty, but on my way there I almost tripped on a pile of of dirty, stained blankets on the floor. I made a mental note to talk to whoever was in charge and tried to discreetly kick the blankets under the nearest chair. My foot hit something solid. I looked down and found the blankets covered a homeless man. A squatter! Now the people in charge were really going to hear it. All of us started mumbling opinions, none of them kind.
As I looked around the sanctuary, I noticed many of the chairs and sofas were occupied by the homeless, the addicted, and the ill. Even the floors were difficult to navigate. But it wasn’t impossible to sit down. The two chairs next to the homeless man wrapped in blankets were empty, but to sit in them we would have to step over the man. His stench was overpowering. He made my eyes water.
There was a chair next to another man, but he was obviously intoxicated. I almost sat down there, but he looked like he was going to be sick. No thanks!
It seemed like every seat in the sanctuary had a problem.
At this point, mass was about to begin. Those of us invited by Pope Francis made our way to the nave. Not nearly as prestigious, but it smelled better and we could sit next to each other rather than people we didn’t know–or care to know, honestly.
During all this, I could feel Pope Francis watching us. I caught his eye; he smiled just like he does on TV and in pictures. I preened.
In a soft, gentle voice he said to all of us, “Your true faith is expressed not in your presence at a special mass, but in your treatment of the poor, the ill, the marginalized people of society.”
I woke up.
Like the title says, happy Ash Wednesday! It’s the beginning of my favorite, favorite time of the year. I love Lent, and always have, even when I used to try and give up chocolate as a kid every year and failed miserably. I love the fasting, the abstaining from meat on Fridays*, the Lenten sacrifice, the masses, the crafts (I remember doing the best projects as a kid in school), the period of reflection on your life leading up to Ash Wednesday, the warming up of the weather and the brightening of the days, and the spirit of community that develops. Really. In my experience, Lent is a time where Catholics, ex-Catholics, non-Catholics, agnostics, and atheists participate in this period of sacrifice/reflection/personal challenge.** They may not assign the same–or any–spiritual meaning to the 40 days, but they’re there with me, and it’s great.
Even Mikey and Nico are excited. This morning, as they inhaled cereal and periodically checked the window looking for their ride to school, they entered into a deep debate on the fish menu at McDonald’s. Nico is a devoted Filet o’ Fish fan (so am I), while Mikey took a liking to last year’s Fish McBites. Poor Mikey; I think he’s the only one on the planet who liked those things because they’re not on the menu this year. They spent the final moments of the morning planning their first McDonald’s run.
I have to admit, even I’m a bit excited. We can’t really eat fast food, let alone McDonald’s, because greasy junk food will make Nico throw up. I’m not kidding. He will throw it up if he has it too often or if he has too much. It’s one of the reasons we don’t eat out a lot, because even non fast food is full of fat, sugar, and salt. McDonald’s is especially bad for Nico. The last time we had it was in autumn, and the Mister was out of town for most of the month. I was frazzled, running straight from swim practice to choir practice and decided to drive through McDonald’s. Guess who spent choir practice on her hands and knees cleaning the mess on the church’s marble aisle while my good friend Soraya cleaned Nico up in the bathroom. He was fine, by the way. As soon as he throws up, it’s like nothing ever happened.
Nico hasn’t mentioned what he gave up for Lent, but Mikey and his best friend decided they aren’t going to fold paper airplanes. This is huge for them. They like paper airplanes so much that his best friend was one for Halloween! (Best costume ever, and my picture fails to capture its awesomeness.) “But mom, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to fold paper into other shapes. Let’s not get crazy.”
I’m going to resume my daily walks, eliminate coffee (yep, started that again), do some daily Bible reading, and try to recapture some of the peace I had at the beginning of 2014, before Buster got sick and I let people embroil me in their drama and disputes. I’ve lost 4 pounds since we got the news about Buster, so it’s safe to say I’m back to skipping meals and poor self care.
Which brings me to what I love most about Lent: there is always hope.
* Many people, including some Catholics, believe we are supposed to eat fish on Fridays. In fact, Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, but are allowed to eat fish. Abstention from meat on Fridays used to be year round, but this post explains why that is no longer the case in the U.S.
** Many of my friends are either not Catholic or ex-Catholic. I also have several atheist friends, one of whom I consider to be one of my best friends. Now that the boys attend a Catholic school, I have more friends who are Catholic, but for a long time it was me and a bunch of protestants who always managed to add the words “grace,” “blessed,” and “convicted” to every conversation. (Kidding! ish!) So when I say “in my experience,” I really mean in my limited experience. I’m not out there taking Lenten polls.
I didn’t realize until after I was almost done decorating the library for Easter that it isn’t until the 3rd week of April this year. That’s okay! This gives me more time before I have to think about decorating summer, which I swear won’t be much since we’ll only have 6 weeks left of school. I stuck to the 99¢ Only Store except for a few items. The flowers are recycled from the fall, this time with tulle ribbon. I tried to get ribbon I could use for Valentines, Easter, and summer. I don’t love the color, but it’s hardly worth throwing my hands up in the air over a funky looking fuscia. The Stations of the Cross cards are from The Bookworm. I printed them on photo paper and glued them to clothespins so they would stand upright. If you decide to do the same craft and use photo paper, go easy on the glue because it soaked through to the image and caused some color bleeding. The “He Is Risen” print is a free download from Heidi Stock. I put it in a frame I bought for the Valentine print I made. The frame is a $6 clearance item from Michael’s. I think the original print inside was of a bowl of fruit or an innocuous bouquet of flowers. Each season I try to find or create a print I can fit in the frame. Super easy, super cheap, and the kids look forward to seeing what I put in next.
I also have hanging from the ceiling paper lanterns, signs, and honeycomb balls of various sizes. It’s…ridiculous. Garish. Phenomenally twee. The kids loves it.
I’m surprised by how much the kids like the decorations. Not all of them–some really don’t care and some are horrified. I had one 7th grade boy almost recoil in terror when he saw the library decorated for Valentine’s.
“Oh, God,” he said, wincing and shaking his head. “This looks so…so…foo-foo romantic.” The girls defended me.
“Whatever. It looks awesome. You’re just a guy and have no appreciation for pretty things.”
“Well, yeah. That’s what I just said.”
“Okay, what you just said makes no sense.”
“None of this makes sense!”
Others like to ask me where I bought this or that. The assumption, oddly enough, is that I make everything. I’m flattered, but I have no idea how they can think I know how to mold plastic into bees and butterflies that glow technicolor at the flip of a small switch.
Mikey and Nico noticed how differently I decorate the library and our home. They wanted to know why I didn’t put up holiday decorations at home. Sigh. I went back to the 99 Cent Store and bought some garlands. They love it; they think the eggs look like Minecraft swords or axes, but cut out.?.to be honest, I have no idea what else they said. I heard “Minecraft” and it’s like the hand of God reached inside my brain and pressed Ctrl-Alt-delete.
Ash Wednesday is this week, and I still haven’t decided what I’m going to sacrifice for Lent. I thought of doing an internet fast, but I’m blogging so little as it is that I’m afraid I’ll have trouble coming back if I stop. It’s a similar problem I’m having right now resuming my daily walking. I seem to have fallen into an every other day habit. I don’t like it. I asked the boys what they planned on giving up for Lent, and Nico said, “Definitely not chocolate or video games. I’d like to give up showers.”
“Try again,” I said.
“I’m giving up farting,” Mikey said.
Nico snapped his head in Mikey’s direction, his eyes wide with shock and the Legos in his hands forgotten. “Dude,” he said. “You’ll never make it.”