A Year of Lent (and Counting)

The Pandemic Has Denied Us What We Most Want: Life with Others.

Duo Dickinson / 2.17.21

Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks a year in which the self-denial in Lent has overwhelmed our lives. Rather than 40 days in a fully mild, safe denial of something we love — sugar, fat, booze — the pandemic has denied us what we want most: life with others.

The world has focused upon the hangman’s noose, within each of us. We have lived this year based on fear, and fear begets hate, and hate begets judgment. Which causes more hate. Many who hate deny their hating, even their fearing; they are just “right.” This place of anger was added to this country’s screaming pot of political rage. It is a vicious stew.

There will be no easy digestion, only a sickened passage of time. Because I am old, I get vaccinated exactly on the first day of Lent, my second shot near its end. In the year of numbers, our obsession with polls was only topped by our daily staring at the infection rates of our town, county, state, and country. For me, the deaths became an echo of the trailer seen at the end of the TV news during the Vietnam War, the trailer of the fallen. Victims stacked upon each other reaching backward and forward, in constant warning against our desire to simply be with others.

But time can bring perspective. There could have been, in some dire warnings at the start of last year’s Lent, well over 2,000,000 dead in America by now. This will not happen. But there are also a record number of suicides. A spike in overdoses to 80,000 in COVID — and counting. Murders have increased by 30% over the year before. Spousal abuse and child abuse are spiking, too.

I want to hug someone I love, and I cannot. But in a few weeks I will again. I know its absence with a clarity only Lent can offer. Throughout COVID I’ve knowN the fear, hatred, anger, and judgment that have always been there, before COVID, before this political season. But this year in Lent has revealed everyone’s fears.

But I did not die, nor even get sick. Voter suppression was met with a record-crushing voter turnout, in a pandemic no less. The fear of fascism had no factual founding as elections changed our government, again. And those who did nothing “wrong” got COVID, and some died.

Of course, there is good found in every disaster. The intense beauty and tragedy of Anne Frank’s diary was written during a nightmare. Political freak shows proved the genius of the Constitution. We eat dinner together, every night.

We have been in a year of Lent. But unlike in the cozy, limited Lent we normally chose, we did not comfortably create an easy path to smug deliverance from just a wee token of our self-indulgence. No, this year of Lent was forced upon us, and often prompted us to broadcast the worst of ourselves to a passive flock viewing their screens in fear.

If you mentioned going to church in the northeast, the response, like going to a concert or a show, was an “oh, no.” There was no way humans could be safe together, in these times, except under the use of extreme precautions. The NFL spent millions to net an infection rate of .08% in 352 NFL games. The players would have far greater risk in the world of lockdown and sequestration. In my office I have kept my outside doors open, AC units pumping fresh air into it, with masks abounding, and no one has gotten sick. We can be safe, mostly. We can follow this Lent. But to what end?

If we follow Lent and know — with absolute certainty — that we are closer to God than others are who do not follow Lent, or wear masks, or stay away from indoor dining, what does it mean?

Some are not more equal than others in the eyes of God. We cannot be Pharisees in COVID correctness and condemn others. Perfection is simply not possible, even getting graded is a joke when we confront our mortality.

The damage of this pandemic will be years in understanding. And the damage is not limited to the disease, even defined with the grim realities of suicide, abuse, and hate. Our year of Lent has revealed, again, and unrelentingly, that we will die; it’s just a question of when. That can either create a new Roaring ‘20s of getting any available joys we can, or, for some, it can teach us to find that those joys, withheld for a year, separated us from what we all confront at the end of our lives: God.

So as I get inoculated, twice, I will simply be part of the huge human herd who do what is required to survive. I have done nothing to deserve it, I just did what we all have been doing, to some level. We have lived a year in Lent.

I pray for Easter.