The Yin Yang of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday!

Went to bed last night and realized it was Fat Tuesday.   Wondered why I forgot since Fat Tuesday is also Mardi Gras.  I love Mardi Gras. Who cannot? A bacchanalia of feasting, partying, wine, women and song!  (Okay, let’s throw in some hunks and studs for the women) Everything we hope we find in heaven right here on earth! So when I awoke this morning, I thought well today is Ash Wednesday.  If ever there were opposites, then Ash Wednesday and Fat Tuesday would quality.  A great example of one of the Yin and Yangs of the universes and just think, they occur back to back.  So I thought, well let’s treat everyone to a dual blog today and make up for my remiss yesterday in one fell swoop.  By the way, somehow yesterday was my all-time single highest day for readers.  I am left perplexed since frankly I thought of yesterday as sort of an average blog.  I cannot say I was terribly excited about it.  So if it were not the blog, was it due to it being Fat Tuesday or some other arcane reason?  Since you might have read my blog, I would be interested in your theory.  You can post it in comments section.  Well, okay so let’s talk about Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. 
I may have some qualifications for talking about these since I lived in Woonsocket, R.I. from my tenth birthday to my fourteenth birthday and went to a Catholic boarding school.  My favorite nun was Mother Findoca, who routinely rapped my knuckles and the back of my head.  She might have just cared about me more than anyone I have ever met except Karen and my mother.  I would throw my first wife Julia in this group except I am no longer on her Christmas card mailing list. Anyway, Woonsocket was the only town in the USA to hold a Mardi Gras festival besides New Orleans.  (Or at least that is what I was always told) Thus, at an early age I was exposed to the Mardi Gras tradition.  Can’t say I was much into wine, women and song at this age.  In fact, since third grade I had never opened my mouth to sing.  My third grade (public school) teacher had told me to shut my mouth and to not even open and close it.  She said I hurt her ears.  I have never sung a bar since that day.  I can appreciate very deeply what effect a teacher can have on a young person.  I can only hope that I have never had that negative effect on any of my students. 
Okay, so my second qualification is perhaps being Catholic (The first living in Woonsocket).  Catholics believe very deeply, although I don’t see it as much done in the flesh as in the spirit with the idea of Lent and forty days of fasting.  Wiki says this about Lent:
During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuryas a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance of this event. In certain pious Catholiccountries, grand processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary
Lent (Lent(Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth ) lasts for forty days and forty comes up many times in the bible with many significant events from the Hebrews wandering in the desert for forty days to Christ fasting for forty days. The most significant event in Lent for me was figuring out what I could give up that really would not upset my life too much and going to church on Ash Wednesday and getting smeared with ashes.  I could then parade around prominently until my ashes either wore off or were washed off.   I thus looked like a real penitent at least for a few hours.  My “fast” would not usually last more than a few days and then be totally forgotten.  Since I usually gave up something I did not care too much about, it really did not matter much when I forgot it anyway. 
I am sorry if I sound sacrilegious and like a heathen (this last was one of my mother’s favorite expressions) but I never really got a sense that it mattered that much what I gave up or how long I did.  I ponder the Muslim tradition of fasting and think about how much more esoteric and serious it seems than the Christian tradition of Lent.  Do you really know many penitents who go and wonder in the desert for forty days or who truly fast for forty days.  If so, perhaps there would be many more thin people around.  I suspect you are saying “this idiot, doesn’t he realize the symbolic importance here?  I guess I am thinking that without the deed, the intention leaves something to be desired.  Every year at my Jesuit retreat (27 of them now) I am reminded that words without actions, intentions without efforts are only half of the battle.  How many people do you know that truly undergo forty days of fasting or at least some real sense of deprivation?  
Well, turning to a happier more pleasant subject, Fat Tuesday is the last day we are supposed to be able to have any fun, since we are all going to be deprived of such luxury for the next forty days.  This of course will only happen symbolically for most of us, but perhaps even thinking about the possibility entitles us to a night of debauchery.  Anyway, most of us are more up these days to debauchery than deprivation.  So Mardi Gras is a “legal” day to go overboard with those true evils that you will then put off for the next 40 days.  According to Wiki:  
Mardi Grasis French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday; in English the day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.”[6]Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitentialseason of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition.
If you have never been to a Mardi Gras party, you are missing out on a very fun event.  Of course, you must put out of your mind that it is all a prelude to forty days of deprivation.  It might be difficult to really have any fun if you had this on your mind all night.  I was sort of surprised yesterday that there no mention of Mardi Gras or Mardi Gras parties at my local coffee shop hangout.  My Arizona City coffee shop is where all the news that is fit to print is usually bandied about.  I was somewhat surprised that there were no local events since it has become common now to find people all over the US celebrating Mardi Gras. In a more serious vein, what can we learn from fasting or some form of self-discipline such as giving up a luxury or something that is really meaningful to us?  The answer I believe is a lot.   
We live in a society which from TV to IPAD to cellphone beseeches us to overindulge.  Go to the grocery store and look at the magazines on the rack.  Most of them will have some ultra-thin models touting a new six week weight loss regimen.  Open the magazines and page after page will have visuals of the greatest most fattening foods imaginable.  A few pages will tell you how to substitute mangos for margarine or salsa for catsup but most pages will also contain the hot fudge sundae brownie nut desert topped with low calorie whipped cream.  Did you know a DQ medium blizzard has about 850 calories?  That is half my BMR calorie rate for the day.  Go to McDonalds and have their deluxe breakfast without syrup or margarine and you have just had 1090 calories for the day.  You now have to get through lunch, snacks and supper and stay under 1000 calories, good luck.  Keep paging your magazine and you will finally come to the one page headliner article where “Rebecca Romijn” talks about how she lost 40 pounds in six weeks for her next movie.  Sometimes, the headliner has had five kids and may even be forty years old.  Rebecca is actually 39 this year.  She fortunately has the luxury of air brushing which the rest of us do not.  Perhaps, Hollywood stars could give up air brushing for Lent. That would be interesting.  
True fasting, which I have engaged in every Wednesday for the past 29 years, although some Wednesdays were better than others has helped me with a sense of self-discipline as well as a modest means of controlling weight gain. I usually limit my calorie intake to 1000 calories every Wednesday and try to stick to simple low calorie foods.  The past year I have to confess that with moving from MN to Wisconsin and Arizona, I have been off my fast.  I thought it would be very easy to resume but it has not.  I keep making a commitment to start again but each week it seems like something comes up.  I will still tout the benefits though at the cost of being counted a hypocrite. 
If you have never fasted, it does not really have to be food you give up; perhaps it could be shopping or something else that you routinely engage in.  For many, alcohol or smoking might be good things to try to put aside.  A true fast is not easy and should not be easy.  The point of fasting is self-discipline.  A side benefit is the sense of identity and empathy it provides us to with those less fortunate.  When you can have anything almost any time you want it, you forget what it is like to have less or not to be able to have at all.  
Today being Ash Wednesday, what can you give up?  Impatience, yelling at other drivers, criticizing your employees, lecturing your children or spouse!  Perhaps, your fast could involve adding something rather than subtracting?  What if you tried doing a good deed every day for someone for the next 40 days?  What if it were for your community or someone you did not know.  As I write this, my wife Karen is off to the food shelf where she will spend three to four hours helping to distribute and load food into peoples trunks who need help with groceries.  She will come back with a sore back but proud that she could give the time to help others in need.  What can you do for the next forty days to sacrifice?  In the long run, you will be the one who really benefits. 

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