on lent, fasting, and not being an asshole…
“Sing less; listen more.” –Kevin Reid
I would rather learn than be right. Not that I prefer being wrong, but leaning into personal interactions with an intent to learn, rather than teach or proselytize, has long been a driving force in my relationships, in my life. I’m as opinionated as the next person, perhaps more, but about 7 years ago, I gave up being an asshole for Lent, and what I learned in those 40 days has really stuck with me.
I should mention, before that Lent, I was still lovable. Mostly. It’s just that I would sometimes level my uncoated opinion without an ear to how it would be heard, but rather with a belief that it needed to be said. Having had an asshole for an older brother, unfettered criticism was pretty much how I experienced love, and I wanted to love the world, so I naturally assumed that this was the way to do it. I was the asshole friend- and you either loved me for telling the truth or you weren’t my friend. It served as a fantastic filter, ensuring that all my people were thick skinned and had great senses of humor. But while I was and am a deeply introspective person, I had never truly examined that portion of my ‘personality,’ it was just a role I fell into naturally. What better time to explore it than 40 days of communal fasting?
The Tuesday night before Lent started, I was at a friend’s house celebrating Mardi Gras with ugly beaded necklaces and split pea soup. The whole gang knew what I was giving up, and their collective feeling was a mixture of “yeah right” and “thank God.” It was a potluck type hang, and while I don’t remember what I brought, I do remember what Caitlin brought: her “famous” Spinach and Artichoke Dip. I remember it because it was awful, and standing in the kitchen with TJ, Angela, and Dave, I said so.
“Can we all agree that Caitlin’s dip is terrible?” All three of them burst into laughter.
“I guess it’s not Lent yet.” TJ said.
I was surprised by that response- the dip had no recognizable spinach or artichoke; it was a grainy, overly salted, green-grey soup in a chewy, day-old bread bowl. Why was I the only one of our friends that would admit it? It’s not like I said it to Caitlin’s face. It was then I realized that I might not be fully aware of what I was getting myself into.
It took about a week to truly settle into my fast, as I learned over and over again how many times in a day I had the opportunity to show the world that “love” I was so accustomed to giving. In conversation after conversation, on the tip of my tongue would be a witty retort or an “honest observation” which I would have to curb, pausing to examine it before I let it loose in the room. And almost invariably, as I was deciding if my words would edify, the moment would pass and I would miss my chance to talk at all. Turns out, not being an asshole ultimately boiled down to just talking less.