Last year, Lent became an exercise in abstract practice for me. You may recall that I gave up negativity for Lent. It was a very positive spiritual exercise for me, one that I can say I’m better for doing. Karen said that I needed to consider doing it again this year. I’m not entirely certain what she meant by that.
I lose track of Lent easily. I think this is because I take the liturgical calendar best in small doses. My liturgical observances go something like this through the year: I enthusiastically observe Advent and Christmas. I begin to falter around Epiphany. I mis-place Lent, but am back in the groove about halfway through, in time to focus on Easter. Then the season of Pentecost leads to more randomness in my spiritual practices. Rinse and repeat.
This year, I remembered Lent somewhere into the second week. What these seasons do for me is make me more disciplined in carving out intentional, meditative time from my days in order to be quiet and re-focus. Similar to last year, though, I struggled with what I should give up for Lent. Because, again, the practical and obvious fasts fell flat in my mind. They would all be things that I would be doing for the sake of religious ritual, not spiritual growth. Religious ritual becomes empty really quickly for me.
I have to say, I seriously considered Karen’s advice that I give up negativity again this year. But, as I read and spent time being quiet, I discovered that what I actually need to give up is independence.
American culture thrives on the myth of the self-made man, a myth that I find non-sensical. Everyone needs someone else at some point. Before Karen and I moved into our current apartment, I was walking up the stairs to our old apartment when a downstairs neighbor (whom I didn’t know) stopped me and told me she was moving out, but really needed help getting a piece of furniture out to the stairs. She asked if I could assist her in moving it. I felt a bit awkward just going into this lady’s apartment and helping wrestle out a tall wardrobe, but she needed help, and I saw no one else to give her assistance.
Sometimes, we just need help moving the big stuff.
That’s difficult for me because I don’t like asking for help. Yet, I’ve discovered that, once you have a child, you have to. In the midst of a crazy week this week, Karen and I have twice had to ask a friend to watch our daughter for a couple of hours. I have a real issue with imposing on friends, but this was just necessary. Also this week, I had to call a friend to ask a question about a car. I’m a geek, but I don’t do car repairs. Put me under the hood, and watch my ineptitude blossom. I have to call someone and ask for assistance with anything involving vehicle mechanics. I have to seek help.
I could go on, because there are a huge number of other ways that we all need help from someone on a daily basis, but you get the idea. The issue is that I feel bad about asking others for help. It’s not a huge struggle, but it causes me to not do it often, to deal with things on my own. This leads to me not having a willingness to step in when others are in need of assistance.
Whether you approach this from the perspective of faith or not, the point is that we’re all stronger when we help each other, especially when we do so pro-actively. The process of doing so relieves us of this ludicrous idea that we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” At some point, you have to know someone. At some point, you need a favor. At some point, you need to know the person next door.
I heard someone say during an interview on the BBC this week that, if we took the time to know each other, that there wouldn’t be war. Knowing each other necessarily involves engaging each other. I think that takes the form of recognizing that the human condition involves at least occasional dependence. I’m not talking about an overload of enormous and deep friendships with everyone around you. I’m just talking about knowing more about the person living next to you than the name on their mailbox. Because then there might not be war. And we could certainly do with less of that.
I think this will play into the nature of a hero in some way, as well. I’ll keep you posted.
Photo Attribution: ktylerconk