Since I now live in a state that has very few Catholics, I’d forgotten that today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I haven’t seen a single person walking around with a smudged black cross on their forehead to symbolize repentance. In fact, Lent wouldn’t have been on my radar at all if it weren’t for having spent the weekend in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. You’re supposed to get all the sin out of your system by Fat Tuesday, so starting the next day you can give up something significant to sympathize with Jesus’ 40-day Biblical struggle in the desert.
I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years, mainly because I’m one of those spiritual-but-not-religious former Catholics who doesn’t realize that Easter is coming until it’s here. Even when I was a churchgoer, I never quite understood how depriving yourself of chocolate or video games made you a better person. This never became clear to me in Sunday school, or even at my Catholic high school and college. Wikipedia provides a better explanation than I ever found as a child: during Lent, you give up a vice that keeps you distant from God — or, as I see it, from evolving as a person. Giving up a vice makes a lot more sense to me than banishing the Nintendo Wii.