I’m pretty sure no one needs my two cents on spiritual matters. I’m not much of a role model and hardly learned on these things. But, because of a massive blizzard here, we’ve been stuck at home for days and days and days with nothing to do and the sound of my own voice might be comforting. This will probably ramble a bit, I apologize in advance.
Two years ago, I had the Best Lent Ever. It was exactly what I always Lent to be: a carefully pre-planned routine of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving all chockablock with spiritual exercises and learning and I stuck to it perfectly. I felt I grew a lot and finally lived up to my own admittedly high Lenten standards (I’m highly competitive and yet completely untalented, so that leads to all sorts of perceived competition in completely inappropriate matters: I will do Lent better than anyone!)
Last year, I don’t even remember what my plans were. The day before Ash Wednesday, the dreaded Tuesday that begins at 8am leaving for co-op and ends at 9:30 pm coming home from scouts, I realized I was experiencing double vision. I’d had a few flashes of it in the days prior but, if I concentrated hard enough I could make it go away. That Tuesday morning it wasn’t bad enough to make me wonder if driving to Ann Arbor was a good idea, but it was noticeable.
The next day it was bad enough that I finally went to the doctor (but not until 8pm). I will never forget the two clover leaf freeway exits I had to take to get there, all dark and icy and me driving with one eye shut firmly in order to see. Was it really stupid of me to drive? Sure. But I also never really thought of myself as being sick or incapacitated. Only people who have been drinking or are on drugs shouldn’t drive; it never occurred to me to evaluate my own fitness for it. I still felt pretty good, it was just a vision thing. In fact, I had convinced myself that an ongoing sinus infection had caused swelling in my frontal sinus (swelling of what, exactly, I don’t know) which had pushed one eye out a little and misaligned my vision. Each eye could see perfectly well on it’s own, just not together.
The end of that story (which is an entire lengthy story in and of itself) is that I have multiple sclerosis. I ended up with severe double vision, loss of feeling in my right side, and no sense of taste. The fatigue was horrible too. So I gave up driving. Cooking. Going to fun events. I had to wear an eye patch to keep from being nauseous from the double vision. I’d switch eyes frequently to avoid damaging one, which got more than a few looks from people (there’s some comedy from the 80s where someone does that, can’t remember which movie though).
A couple days before all this happened, I had sat on the bottom of my coat in my car and turned sharply, which partially ripped out the sleeve. I had forgotten about that completely until it was time for Mass that first Sunday of Lent. I had recently started at a new parish and didn’t know many people. I wasn’t strong enough to stand during most of the Mass, but made an extra effort during the passing of the peace. I’ll never forget the look of shear terror on the 7 year old boy’s face as I turned around in my pew to great him and he saw the piratey front-side of the lady in the tattered black coat. After Mass I realized that I couldn’t look more like Griselda from Cats if I tried.
There was lots of giving up that Lent. Lots of doing without. Of course I hadn’t chosen any of it. I definitely changed from that experience and probably I grew too. I’ve always had a problem with control, with adapting to new situations quickly, changing course. It wasn’t the Lent I chose, but it was the Lent I got.
On to this year. Leo got a new job in rural Vermont and we’ve just moved. While I consented to the move, it was certainly not my idea. Living on a farm may be some people’s idea of a “good life” it certainly is not mine. We have a month between arriving in Vermont and actually moving in to our house; all we brought was what we could fit in the cars (so not much). I have 5 outfits, most of which are not nearly warm enough. I brought a sewing machine to amuse me but not the power cord. I still do all the cooking and cleaning but I have none of the right tools (the 1yo was weaned when I was diagnosed with MS and takes bottles. There’s no microwave here and I overwarm each. and. every. bottle.) I gave up homeschooling, which I loved (all except Mondays at around 10am when everyone suddenly realized it was no longer the weekend) so that the kids wouldn’t be stuck lonely in our house all day with nothing to do. I gave up having things to do (there aren’t enough people here) and places to go (ditto).
I did have “real” Lent stuff planned, but most has gone out the window. Instead there are new things like doing without an electric toothbrush (which I’ve always wanted) even though it’s half off (that’s doing without, right? Even if it’s in a real First World way). Being cold all the time. Staying inside for days on end. Never seeing friends and family and familiar surroundings. Will this end up being some awesome life-changing learning experience? IDK.
I’m struck by how similar this Lent is with the last. I didn’t choose either. Neither was preplanned or scheduled. Both involved changes that required me to adapt quickly, which I’m never good at. So – hey there – I guess I just equated moving to rural Vermont with getting MS. You’re welcome, Green Mountain State! I find you and MS equally debilitating! I’m currently free of all MS symptoms so hopefully at this time next year I will be “recently moved to the Vermont countryside” symptom-free too (with new friends and things to do).
That wasn’t really going to be my point when I sat down. I think there was going to be some deep take away about spiritual growth and “life happens” and stuff. Instead you got ramblings with a side dish of offensive too (well, if you’re a Vermonter) and 10 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. Hey, you’re now having a Lent just like mine!