Ash Wednesday

Last night, while I was working late at the office, I realized it was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.

I had completely forgotten.

I had made a mental note (though not a written one) of Ash Wednesday, planning to go to services and to spend some time preparing for the 40 days of reflection before Easter. Perhaps I’d even bring the kids into Lent this year, figuring that at four and six years old, they are old enough to start commemorating the season.

And yet I still dropped the ball.

There I sat, at my desk at work, overlooking the twinkling lights from the building across the street, realizing my mistake and having flashbacks to my childhood catechism classes. Every week while I was in elementary school and junior high, my mother would bring me to CCD, the Catholic “Sunday School,” (though it was held during the week) to listen to my teachers drill into me the dos and don’ts of Catholic holidays and important lessons for our church. You would have thought that, with so many years of instruction, I would have been more attuned to the start of the Easter season.

A day late does not make me out of the game, however.

Here’s my Lenten decision: This year I am not giving up anything.

As a kid, I typically sacrificed dessert, especially ice cream, only to go overboard with the sweets on Sunday—the Lent “free” day in my house. I always thought my parents had created that break from Lenten commitments to help me manage my short-term needs (Must.Have.Ice.Cream.Now.) but it turns out that the free-for-all on Sundays is legitimate. That sacrifice, though, never helped me connect  to Easter and the priorities of the season, so, in 2014, instead of denying myself, I am focusing on doing. Specifically, I am focusing on kindness—kindness to others, kindness to my loved ones, and kindness to myself.

Kindness takes many forms, and it can be inadvertently left-behind in a hustle-bustle of life. So, for me, it means, this Lent, I will:

Reach out. The other night, driving home in the polar vortex infused winter evening, I stopped at a red light, and there, walking back and forth along the side of the road, was a man with a sign that read “homeless veteran.” It was dark and cold and yet he paced in the median of that super busy road, with cars whizzing by, not stopping, and not seeing him. I rolled down my window and gave him $2. It was such a small gesture and not nearly enough. Lent will be about going out of my way to do something kind for others—and not just my family.

Limit my use of curse words. Heard this one before from me? Yup, I’m on a yearlong quest—the year of the nice, if you will—to clean up my vocabulary. Even though I pull out the “swears” largely in moments of stress and when I’m stuck in traffic, it’s still not ok, and I want to break the bad habit.

Be positive. Recently, I had a conversation with my husband in which I said something negative about myself. I was being self-deprecating, or at least had intended it sound like that, but he, in that way that only your best love can, called me out on it. If he hears me talk down about myself—even in jest—my kids could, too. I don’t want them to internalize negative messages, especially not from me.

Let it go. (Oh no, I didn’t! Come on, what parenting blogger can escape a “Frozen” reference?) For me, “let it go” means, forgive the small—and big—stuff. As I get older, I realize more and more that holding onto ill will and anger is what diminishes us. And, I want my life to be about what’s important and right. (On a related note, check out this great piece in the NY Times, What You Learn in Your 40s.)

There you go. I may have forgotten the kick-off to Lent, but I’m here.