Category Archives: Lent

Who do you think YOU are?

The French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had a theme in his writing that unfortunately resonates still today. If you’ve ever read the play “No Exit” you know well what it is – “Hell is other people.”

This idea has been on my mind, as recently I’ve realized one of my greatest challenges in being a true Catholic is learning to love all of God’s people. I wasn’t always this way. I once loved meeting new people, being in the thick of crowds, and so on. As I’ve aged, I’ve found myself doing things to avoid “people.”

I’m not talking necessarily about specific people in my life. We all make mistakes, disagree even with good friends and family, and if we’re honest, know we can be more annoying than comforting at times.  Sometimes we just don’t want to be together. 

I’m talking more about society and it’s ever shifting ideas of what is acceptable. People today truly believe they are personally more important than anyone else, and they act on it. Not when it comes to big things, like political ideals, religion, etc., although we see it there as well. Where it’s really hard to take is in everyday situations.

For instance, I’ve noticed lately people racing each other into restaurants in order to get on the wait list first. Others racing each other to the closest available parking space. I even had a woman race me to the cart return at the grocery store one morning. We want to be first at everything, it seems. 

Lately, I’ve had to fight my way through grocery store isles past people who have stopped to have long conversations with neighbors without stepping out of the thoroughfare. Watched younger drivers honk their horns impatiently at slow-walking elderly people crossing streets and parking lots. Just recently, taking my daughters to an activity, I was amazed to see one parent block half of the entrance road to a sports facility with her SUV, and remain there until her child’s lesson ended, some 45 minutes later. (There was plenty of parking in the lot.)

Have we lost the ability to be considerate of others? How hard has it become for us to be aware of our surroundings enough to be polite to someone else? Or is it that we’re so self-absorbed that we don’t even notice other people?

It seems to get worse all the time. I had an elderly woman going about 80 on a motorized scooter side swipe my daughter on the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World one morning. I’m not sure which was more at fault. My daughter walking in the middle of the nearly empty pathway, gawking at Lord knows what, or the scooter speeder, who refused to move over, even though she definitely saw the child (she was yelling “move! move!” as she zoomed by.)

I’ve always been big on teaching my girls about “presence,” partially for safety and partially out of respect for others. They get it, but don’t seem to understand why they should care when other people obviously don’t. 

We often talk about improving our world, and most people seem to think you have to make the news to be heard. But really all you have to do is be mindful of what’s happening around you. Hold that door for the older person or pregnant woman – or anyone else. Don’t cut in line before someone who you know won’t challenge you. Be patient with an overworked waitress who forgets the ketchup. 

In other words, don’t sweat the small things other people trip over in life. Even when they’re making things inefficient for you. Like the people in airport security lines who never know the rules or wear boots with twenty different closures on them when they travel. I actually got behind a guy one day who had no picture ID. At an airport. After 9/11. 

We all do things that annoy others. Living and breathing in close quarters with the people of the world is trying. We all do things different. I’m trying to lighten up this Lent. Maybe if we all try, we’d see that we can get along on bigger things.

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the ¬†Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.

Giving it Up

My daughter announced this morning on the way to school that she was giving up ALL video games and tv for Lent. My younger daughter countered with chocolate chip cookies.
They wanted to know what I was giving up. But first, I thought it was important to discuss their choices.
Last year, oldest daughter gave up Disney Infinity. And she was successful, even though this was her favorite thing at that time. It may still be, as Grandma just produced a Jasmine character. She is a gamer at heart. X-Box, Infinity, Kindle, you name it. And she also loves tv (I know, this makes me an awful parent.)
I told her I didn’t think it was wise to set herself up for failure (and a month+ of moaning and trying to get me to buy her some video thing she didn’t give up.) So she began to qualify. She wasn’t giving up America’s Funniest Videos, cause that’s on Sundays. I told her to think about paring it down a bit more.
As for the other one, I asked when she last had a chocolate chip cookie. She didn’t know, but she told me she wouldn’t be able to have one at Max & Erma’s Free Cookie Wednesday. We were once regulars for that…..not so much since they started running on Wednesdays last September. Seemed a little too easy for her. So she suggested M&Ms. Which aren’t even her favorite candy. Let’s face it. She wants it to sound hard,but not really be hard. More thinking about what Lent is about.
I have to admit, I was like the younger of the two as a child. I was good at doing things that can’t be measured, like helping my mom or giving up gum, which I wasn’t really into anyway. These two have challenged me this year to give up my one vice. Diet cola. I think this is a good idea in theory. I have been working on cutting back, and I have, significantly. (It’s difficult and probably disgusting to discuss just how much I drink.) I’m fearful I cannot go without it.
My other idea was to give up naps. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, since I take some meds that make me sleep. So, slight problem. (I’m convinced docs and pharma are in cahoots to produce drugs that make people rest, since we never really do. But that’s another blog.)
In my mind, I’ve always believed one of the most important parts of parenting was leading by example. I know this is true when I watch my beauties pick up on my stupid bad habits. Or, less regularly, when they pick up on the good ones. (I do have some.)
So, it looks like my beloved Diet Pepsi will be taking a little vaca. (I started boycotting Coke when they hired Michael Sam to represent them – not because he’s gay, but because he proposed to his partner on top of a Vatican building.)
This year will likely be the most challenging Lent I my lifetime. I know that sounds pathetic, but when you don’t drink, don’t do drugs and have diabetes, diet soda can become your only indulgence. (That and chocolate.)
I’m sort of excited about this. I know I can do it. I don’t know if I actually want to do it, but I think real sacrifice is the next step on my road back to the arms of God. I’ll let you know in 40 days.