I’m filing this missive from the middle of the north woods of Wisconsin. Since my folks were on vacation in the Caribbean and The Missus has never had a strong attachment to Easter as a holiday, we gladly accepted an invitation to head up to my in-laws’ place. Before we got here, the Classic landed in the shop and is likely to run about $4,000 in unanticipated repairs, the Midget came down with strep throat and I almost ran over a possum at 11 p.m. We’re going to call this a fair trip, in that we’re all alive but let’s not oversell anything at this point.
When I was a kid, Good Friday was a bit of a tradition for us. Mom would have off so we’d get up early and race around doing our errands. Most of those errands pertained to making Easter baskets, so we’d get the special kind of plastic grass and some of the exceptionally expensive chocolate eggs from the Boston Store. We’d grab fish sandwiches at McDonald’s or Burger King and then race home to be inside by noon. From noon to 3 p.m., we were silent, as was the tradition. That was the time in which Jesus was to have been nailed to the cross, suffered and died. I’d quietly color eggs while Mom would iron clothes. The next day, we’d be on a plane for somewhere fun, like Arizona or Mexico. It was a chance to get some warmth on us and to break up what was becoming an interminable school year for Mom and me. Once 3 p.m. hit, we’d head over to both grandmothers’ houses and drop off the baskets, dark chocolate candy for Mom’s mom, milk chocolate for Dad’s mom.
On rare occasion, we’d break the trend. My best friend when I was a kid didn’t have to stay inside, as it wasn’t part of his faith. One year, it was about 85 degrees and the kids were all outside playing. Mom kept me in until about 2 p.m., and then she let me out to play. She said she couldn’t imagine God giving us in Wisconsin such a beautiful day and then forcing us to not enjoy it. Another year, Dad had been grousing about his old car’s look, so Mom let me outside to wash and wax it. When Dad got home, the car looked so different he asked who was visiting us. Mom explained it was OK that I did this, as service to another was just as important as quietly reflecting. But don’t turn on the radio in the garage while you’re working.
Mom raised me to follow a lot of the traditions of the church. We gave up something for Lent, we didn’t eat meat on Friday and so forth. Still, she had a healthy respect for the underlying value of what these things were supposed to mean as opposed to worrying about the letter of the law. The sacrifice was supposed to make you think about yourself and how you approached certain things in your life. Instead of pissing and moaning that you couldn’t eat sweets or that you gave up watching TV, you were supposed to think about what you got to eat instead or how you’d better use that time to do something of value. That didn’t make me any less pissed off when the Missus watched me have a massive brain fart and eat some mashed potatoes and gravy last Friday, knowing I was screwing up. Still…
I’ve come to view this time of year a lot like I view education. I’ve got kids who are obsessed with grades and getting extra credit after they screw up and who are doing the “I’ve never got less than an A in anything” thing. Those folks, to me, represent what I don’t want education to be and what I sure as hell don’t want my faith to be: a series of check boxes that are used to measure how cool they are in a particular arena. I’ve also got kids who after failing something tell me, “I don’t care about this grade. I want to know what I did wrong and how to get better at this.” Those kids are fewer and much further between, but I’d do anything for them. They want to learn for learning’s sake and because they want to get better at something that matters to them. I wish more people in my faith were like this: discovering something about themselves through rituals they practice in order to better themselves.
Sure, you don’t need faith for that, but I’ve found it to be helpful and if I’m going to be part of a faith-based system, that’s what I want to get out of it as opposed to memorizing the stand-sit-kneel machinations and calling it good.