Sunday, March 17, 2013
For Lent I gave up eating cake, and other closely related delicacies, biscuits, muffins, cookies and donuts, a simple enough task but not one without its own controversy. You could tell a friend, "Last night I smoked crystal in Lidl, convinced myself I was Diana Ross, climbed onto the roof of the Ecuadorian embassy and kidnapped Julian Assange, whom I then promptly dragged to a black mass performed in honor of David Cameron at XXL!" and they would not think this unusual or remarkable, but tell them you are observing Lent and they look at you as though you are actually the hellmouth incarnate. It's reactionary, it's old fashioned, it's restrictive, repressive, archaic, homophobic by default and P.S. it's pointless - apparently.
Now this article is not an attempt to justify myself, I mean who has the time? Rather it's intended as a musing on cultural practices and assessing your very own lifestyle for your very own self. Lent provides me an opportunity to observe patterns in my behaviour which are automatic and possibly addictive, certainly not conscious or well considered. When I think about it clearly, why would anyone eat as much cake, as many cookies as I do on a regular basis. Are three desserts a day really that necessary? Clearly not. There is an argument to say that I could do this at any time of year and that there's no need to tie it in with the Catholic Church, but that you see is from where I come.
Ever since I was a child I gave something up in the run up to Easter, and my word how long did those four weeks seem? Extending out for a candy free eternity ahead of me, a desert of, "No thank you", and, "Not until Easter", which seemed to only grow longer the closer the calendar told me we were coming to Good Friday. In primary school I would talk with my friends about what they were abstaining from, at home it was the same. We would watch each other, with a sense of propriety streaked with a childish sadism, to make sure we didn't stray, and when we suspected that someone had broken their covenant, out would come the damning mantra, "You're only cheating yourself, God knows."
Thus we would spend a month playing hide and seek with temptation, chewits had never seemed so decadent to our sugar starved minds, Satan seemed to appear to us in the guise of a grandmother offering us a innocent curly wurly or a sales assistant with a tray of free sampled of M&Ms at the mall.
But what pleasure there was in our dorky little quest for salvation! How we loved to count off the days, to stack them up like firewood on the bonfire of our good deeds, to burn on Easter Sunday and warm ourselves in those heavenly tongues of flame. The annual observance of Lent was just like dressing the Christmas tree each December, a gorgeous, delicate, spellbinding ritual full of ancient symbols and achievements, which lit up the pathway to the great celebration like a trail of glitter on the grey pavements of Thatcher's council estates. And just as we would string up the tinsel and hang the baubles with such excitement in Winter, so giving up our silly childish desires for a month each year as Spring began had it's own definite, preparatory charm. The sacrifice was a wonderful part of the celebration, as necessary as it was to make sure the house was immaculately clean before Father Christmas came to visit.
The pleasure of disavowing pleasures unravelled marvelously with the chocolate eggs and assorted weird fruit gum candies, a feast fit for a welfare queen that came on Easter Sunday. I have never gorged as much as I did as a nine year old, barely able to contain myself from swallowing the Cadbury's chocolate buttons egg whole, python style. And how ill I felt, but how satisfied.
I'm sure this is not the true intent of Lent, but I observe it all the same. Lent lets me meditate on what I want and why I want it; I catch myself even as I write, absent-mindedly reaching for the chocolate box, having to stop myself and ponder what lust powers these daydream fumbles, what corporate hypnotism has me equate comfort and productivity with sugar and confectionery. Each time I can't have what I reach for I require myself to think of everything I do have, in which case even the hardest work day, the nastiest argument, and the smallest bank balance seem irrelevant. This is a good thing, gratitude for what you do have is the greatest step towards being empowered and in control of your own life. And of course, every craving for candy returns me right back to where I was, when amongst my sisters at home as a child, we would lie in strips of sunlight poured through the window and onto the carpet, as if laid out just for us, and daydream of the bacchanal of bakewell tarts and custard to await us in Heaven.