I didn’t spend Ash Wednesday waiting in line to get a cross on my forehead. I had a different memento mori: a day on the highways of the northeast corridor, racing home from Florida to beat a winter storm.
The New Jersey Turnpike is an aptly penitential place. Buckled into our car’s passenger seat as my intrepid husband drove, I looked up the day’s readings via the Laudate app on my phone. It was hard to concentrate when the guy in the next lane kept drifting over the line. All ended well: safe travel, only one real delay (the Jersey pike, of course), and we got home six hours before the snow started.
The day had reminded me of many Lents when my children were little. Back then, I always started my day with a list of to-dos (none dare call it a “schedule”), and by 10 a.m. the list had usually been amended beyond recognition. Kids got sick or I got sick or the fridge died or an appointment fell through or the car needed attention or the grocery store was out of whatever. Shift, adapt, cope, move on.
I observed and celebrated the liturgical seasons accordingly, with no time for anything fancy. We all muddled through together, sometimes with ashes on Ash Wednesday and sometimes without.
The rhythms of my life have changed since then. I can actually prepare thoughtfully, more or less, for the liturgical seasons and solemnities and feasts. I take time to pray for the young families in my parish, in an attempt to pay forward the gracious prayerful support we got from older parishioners back in the days when our kids were squirming in the pews. I can work on the long process of cultivating a calm and even temperament.
Then a winter storm, the interstate highway system, and some interesting drivers combine to kick “calm” in the teeth.
Shift, adapt, cope, move on. And laugh, too: our race home happened to be on Ash Wednesday, of all days, and all we could do was offer it up to God in reparation and thanksgiving.
Now I turn to more conventional Lenten disciplines: more frequent Mass and Adoration; focused reading (Fulton Sheen and Dorothy Day: how’s that for a combination?); 40 Days for Life, with a weekly vigil at an appallingly early hour for this night owl. Perhaps I aim low; the most arduous thing about the plan is getting up early. But it is a plan.
As Ash Wednesday reminded me, my plans can go awry. I’ll adapt. The season is what remains steady.
header photo: Steven Liao/Pixabay