The Lent You Didn’t Choose

With a mix of embarrassment and defiance, I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of days explaining my family’s response to Covid-19. For starters, let’s all agree right now that it’s foolish and dangerous to dismiss this as “just like the flu.” A video by Nassim Taleb, a statistician who studies probability and randomness, points out that it’s wise to prepare and take serious steps now (he even uses the term “panic”) than to wait until the spread becomes overwhelming. The death rate isn’t static — if the disease moves rapidly while we maintain an illusory “business as usual” stance, those who are made seriously ill by the outbreak will overwhelm the medical infrastructure, resulting in unnecessary deaths.

So it doesn’t matter if you, like me and my household, are unlikely to be made severely ill by coronavirus. As I explained to my children, the worst case scenario for our immediate family is just a couple rocky weeks while Mama and Papa have flu symptoms and the kids watch a lot of TV. If we were the only part of this equation, we’d still be bopping about living our normal lives. But, as John Donne’s reminder rings over the centuries, no man is an island, and if we proceed as usual, we will be five more people potentially shedding contagion and risking infecting those around us who can’t handle the disease as well.

A February 27 piece in the Scientific American urges,

“Preparing for the almost inevitable global spread of this virus, now dubbed COVID-19, is one of the most pro-social, altruistic things you can do in response to potential disruptions of this kind. We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.”

God does not always give us the Lent we chose. (I’ve spent two of them cripplingly morning sick, and one increasingly homesick to end my stint in Uganda. I’m sure you’ve had ones, too, where your plans flew out the window for whatever reason.) He may be calling many of us to offer up things we’d never considered: play dates and church socials, vacations and library runs. Over at Under Thy Roof, Kirby gives us a quick walkthrough of the social distancing measures that led to the canceling of Mass in the 1918-19 flu epidemic, as well as during the Ebola outbreak in west Africa several years ago, lest all the US ends up having to go the way of Italy and now Seattle and Kentucky.

Review the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. (I’ll wait.) Could your Lent this year, like ours, involve dropping off a meal for quarantined families? (Visiting the sick, feeding the hungry) Could you call or FaceTime your aging family members? (Comfort the afflicted) Can you give up the entertainment of going to concerts, movie theaters, restaurants and sporting events and donate the money you save to a relief effort? (Shelter the homeless) The Atlantic piece cited above urges, “[A]nyone in a position of power or authority, instead of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, should ask people to stay away from public places, cancel big gatherings, and restrict most forms of nonessential travel” — a currently unpopular stance that could give us ample opportunity to bear patiently those who wrong us. And surely, surely we all must double down on our efforts to pray for the living and the dead.

Because my husband’s teaching at the local college has been moved online for the next several weeks and I homeschool, we are prime candidates for taking a step back from society. Our outings are mostly wants, not needs, unlike so many whose work still demands them leave the house. And so we can sacrifice those outings for the safety of others and take what we’re calling a “prolonged snow day approach”: walks and gardening, lots of books and snuggles inside, more than usual TV, but a comforting adherence to our basic schedule. We can treat grocery shopping as a game of musical chairs — trying to keep our pantries and fridge at around 90% in preparation for when the music stops and staying entirely at home becomes absolutely essential for nearly everyone.

Because I think the music will stop, and soon, for a little while. (Epidemiologists suspect eight weeks might be required to contain the pandemic.) And when the music starts back up and we assess the damages, I don’t want to suspect I took unnecessary risks and endangered the people I love. To the best of my very limited powers, I’m going to try to ensure that this Easter is an especially Eastery Easter, when we can give thanks for rebirth and reunite with those we love. And the only way to get there is to embrace the sacrifice of Lent.

Miscarriage, Lent, and Being Still

It has been a month since we lost our baby. And over these weeks, I’ve watched myself with a sort of odd, detached interest: What does the patient do in grief?

I am 34 years old, and, until this point, I have been mostly untouched by real loss that belongs to me primarily. Does that make sense? I’ve grieved, of course, but mostly by proxy, for the people I love who have lost people they’ve loved, in miscarriage and in life. So I find myself, rather late in life, new to this grief business.Read More »


Around here, the daffodils are blooming, the irises and the forsythia. And it’s all too early. People talk with trepidation: It’s beautiful, and welcome, but surely winter will be back. It won’t last.

Something similar is going on in our house. We are at a sweet spot in our family’s rhythms. Scout is approaching being weaned. I’ve got a plan for Pippin for next year. The house is tolerably under control. We are out of the trenches on most fronts.

But that means it’s probably just a matter of time until the cycle starts over again, and, God willing, I’m pregnant again.

Because I love my babies, and I’d love more, and I love parts of having a baby: picking a name, feeling the baby move, even labor. And the baby coming: the tiny clothes, the sweet snuggles, nursing. But it’s all really, really hard, right? My two pregnancies have not come close to a hyperemesis gravidarum diagnosis, but the first one in particular was one of the most discouraging, exhausting, bleak experiences of my (admittedly very privileged) life. The second time, both pregnancy and the newborn phase were easier, because I knew with personal evidence they would, in fact, come to an end, and could therefore better savor them. (Also, real talk, I took nausea medicine for the second go round, which obviously helped in the morale department.) Still, pregnancy means ceding control, and ceding it for a pretty long time — much longer than just pregnancy itself. It’s a scary, dreary prospect.

Just as winter is a fruitful time, bulbs fastening on to life underground, unseen, the hibernation and disarray of the pregnant season yields much that is good, too. It’s a season of Lent for me, and this early taste of spring has felt like Easter.

It’s a scary prospect, to go back under, to submit to the privations of Lent, the bleakness of winter, the aches of pregnancy, to wait for the return of blossomtome. But time out of mind, the only way up has been through. And Lent and pregnancy are, in the end, privileges: both are, if embraced, a time to toughen up, to grow closer to God — and followed by rich and lasting reward.

Lenten rose, spotted on a springlike Fat Tuesday walk

Let’s Talk Lent

I’ve been enjoying talking to people and reading about how they’re choosing to approach Lent this year, so I offer this post as a matter of interest, and not a humblebrag. What are you doing? How are you approaching it? How is this year different from past years?

This is what I’m thinking for this year, which departs significantly from my hazy but noble goal last Lent of no yelling:

A study: Blessed Is She’s Put On LoveReading and discussing with friends one evening a week.

A prayer practice: Kneeling for prayer at bedtime. I usually lie on my side reading my St. Benedict’s Prayer Book very last thing, falling asleep as I go. I can do better, and give God more than just the very dregs of alertness.

A discipline: I’m going to try veiling at Mass. I am…not excited. But I have friends who I love and admire who do it, and I’ve been receiving on the tongue since Scout was born, and if we’re going to buy into all this Eucharist stuff, we might as well err on the side of caution, treating it just as reverently as possible. Like Flannery O said, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.”

I’ve also set myself the tentative deadline of Ash Wednesday to finish reading A Mother’s Rule of Life and start trying to implement some of its suggestions. So, yay. I guess it’s kind of a lot, but at least there’s still chocolate.


Update on NO YELLING

So, I decided this year for Lent I’d give up yelling. I never fast from a food when I’m pregnant or nursing, and as I’ve been one of those every Lent since, um, 2012, I’m trying to get creative in finding disciplines and areas that will help me grow in my faith.

And let me tell you, this Lent’s fast has been really, really hard. The thing I like about fasting from a food, or TV, or whatever, is either you do it or you don’t. There’s a little room for interpretation — is an Instagram video TV? Is eating a chocolate cookie to be polite breaking your fast or not? — but it’s pretty clear cut. I am a girl who likes to get the gold star, to check things off neatly in a box.

So deciding whether my tone is contemptuous, if I’m raising my voice to be heard or in anger, if I’m extra angry (and yelly) because I’m not cutting myself enough slack, or if that’s a total copout and I need to try harder…it’s a slow, discouraging slog.

There’s been some progress. Right around Lent the kids went and got themselves slap cheek and in the sort of unfolding of events that never happens, suddenly started sleeping way, way better. The illness exhausted them, but the new sleep habits lingered even after their lurid cheeks had faded to normal human complexion. And you know, sleeping better did help morale around here, for all of us.


But there are still so many times I’m distracted or overambitious and so completely overwhelmed. I gueeeessss there’s been an overall decrease in yelling around here, but not nearly what I would hope for.  And in the meantime Pippin has started saying both “crap” and “dammit” and if there was any doubt who taught him that, my sharp CRAP DAMMIT when the paper bag broke as I unloaded it from the car last week eliminated any uncertainty. (Related: Please let my potty-mouthed child still play with yours. We are really, really working on it.)

In the midst of it all, Pippin is doing this thing that is just wonderful and horrible. He’ll say, “I’m sorry” for his millionth tiny infraction and one of us will say, “It’s OK, bud,” half-listening, and he’ll answer with a furrowed brow, “Well, it’s not OK. But you forgive me.” There’s something so raw and humbling about coming right out and saying it like that. But I forgive him. Of course. And I hope to heaven he’s forgiving me.

I’ve got a lifetime of impatience and perfectionist impulses to war against, and there is no 40-day solution that I know of. But I’m trying, and falling back on forgiveness, and I guess that’s Lent.

But will Pip ever forgive me for this?