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What I’m Giving Up for Lent

“But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” Matthew 5.34-44

Yeah, it’s a little late, I know, but sometimes there’s a reason for when things happen.

This year, for Lent, I didn’t give up blogging, or ALA, or chocolate, or People Magazine, or dark beer. I did intend to give up dark beer, but then the budget axe fell, and the only thing more comforting to me than Tater Tots (my favorite bad food, eaten only when Sandy is away and I feel justified in a bit of prandial naughtiness) is a nice glass of porter, particularly on Wednesday night, the huge hump night when I’ve just had two marathon days.

So I let up on myself. There’s always another Lent. Besides, my Jewish side dictates that penance shouldn’t be longer than a week. 40 days? Nu, that’s a little long, even for the goyishe!

But as of this morning, I am giving up on the Vortex.

You know the vortex: it’s the place you go when you get sucked into a swirling spiral of negativism and anger. Where your thoughts are preoccupied with toxic garbage. When you spend far too much time brooding over negativism and nastiness, and not enough time with the rest of your life.

The vortex becomes an end in itself. What did so-and-so say? Who’s poisoning the well? That person said what? When? Where? What will Curmudgeon 2.0 say next? Oh he did, did he? This and that, and this and that!

Once more, with feeling: “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

This is one of the hardest lessons for me. I’m not good at that. I don’t want to turn the other cheek. I want to pick up a tire iron and inflict real damage, or at least stand my ground, arguing and arguing, making MY point, having MY say, energizing the vortex with my righteousness.

How interesting that someone else can do such a good job of rearranging my priorities.

Meanwhile, a 73-year-old California man died trying to save his house from a mudslide; America’s young working poor are in Iraq, helping a truly noxious administration play out its fantasies; and a whole lot of people in New Orleans are still trying ot pick up the pieces.

Plus there is plenty of tsuris in my own small world. In early March, I had to tell everyone at My Place Of Work that short of a miracle as of July 1 their hours will be cut or eliminated, which felt like saying that I had failed them. I’m trying hard to off-set that, and have to swallow back destructive, confusing anger and impatience when some people (working librarians!) either diss our work or suggest it can be done by volunteers. I am trying hard to be upbeat and patient while I take on what feels like a second or even third job, that of Crisis Manager, meanwhile keeping the good ship MPOW afloat.

Again, I cannot focus on the vortex. I owe it to myself and those around me to keep my eyes on the prize.

“But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” It’s about perspective. It’s about humility. It’s a path to wholeness and health. It’s about asking myself what I can do to stay out of the vortex.

A few months back, someone asked me why I wasn’t bothered that a particular blogger was attacking me. I said because I don’t read his blog. I don’t link to it, it’s not in my aggregator, if someone forwards me a link I shrug it off. He’s a particularly bad case (creepily homophobic, among other things), but in looking at how I handled this person, it’s broadly applicable.

Viktor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but … the last of the human freedoms — to choose
one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I cannot change other people’s behavior, but I can stop participating in the vortex. Stop reading (and re-reading!) that which hurts me. Excuse myself from the seemingly unavoidable situations; in ten years, who will care? Rearrange my life toward calmer waters and larger issues, and–my Lenten sacrifice, which I see is also a gift–keep myself resolutely turned away from the seemingly all-encompassing but pathetically trivial tunnel of anger.

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