Aging and Lent

Traditionally, Lent is seen as a time of sacrifice, of giving up something. Some people give up chocolate, or drinking alcohol, or fast food; I met a young woman last week who was fasting for Lent. I didn’t get a chance to ask her what kind of fast it was, but at our small group meeting the only thing she had was water. For the last couple of years I’ve given up social media for Lent, and it has been surprisingly easy to do.

That probably means that I check in to social media sites mostly out of habit and not because they are particularly useful. Lent is good for that kind of thing, I think. Sometimes breaking a habit is helped enormously by having a little outside push, and Lent provides both that and a preset timetable. The choice of whether to go back to the habit we set aside when Lent is over is up to each person, and depends largely on several factors: how strong the habit was, how much each person’s peer group indulges in the same habit, and how much benefit of taking a break from it is evident in the short term. We’ll see what happens this year at the end of Lent for me and social media. 

Using Lent to set aside habits can also help expose the downside of our habits, whether we are wasting money, time, or the chance to improve on some of our good habits. When I give up social media for Lent, the monetary gain is pretty much non-existent, but the time newly available means I can practice my hammer dulcimer more, make more use of the library system, do some more writing of my own, and so on. That’s kind of the big deal about breaking habits, I guess; having a replacement activity helps a lot.

I realized the other day while thinking about Lent that the fact that I’m getting older (not 70 yet, but it’s getting pretty close) means that I’m also giving up things as a natural process. Lately I have noticed that I’m eating less, and I think that is a result of my changing metabolism. I’m taking time to notice the arrival and departure of seasons, and that is undoubtedly age related as well. TV is generally pretty boring, even with hundreds of channels, and the news is downright scary most nights (which is why I almost never watch it). It’s also clear, as John Prine observed in his fine song “Hello In There” that “all the news just repeats itself. like some forgotten dream . . . .” He wrote that song, along with a bunch of others that are staggering in their insight and poetry, when he was in his early twenties. Some people see things sooner and clearer than others; they are the artists among us.

At any rate, I’m giving up some things on purpose and Lent is helpful for that. I’m giving up other things as I age, and that is a good thing. I am, however, having a little trouble remembering I’m in my sixties when I set out to do some work around the house or out in the yard. That interior voice that tells me I’m still in my thirties is lying to me, but the temptation to believe it is hard to resist. I do pay for indulging that delusion the next day, or sometimes later on that same day. Or immediately, when I notice that the rocks I moved easily thirty years ago have gotten much heavier.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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