There’s nothing like projectile vomiting and the loss of a friendship to kick off a good Lent.
I’m still not sure how much the two are related. Both involved copious amounts of bile, and my stomach blew up just about five minutes after I had to click Unfriend on Facebook for the first time ever. It’s been nearly two days, and I’m still feeling feverish and hollowed out and weepy, symptoms that could easily accompany either stomach flu or online breakup.
The blessing about these two intertwined ailments occurring during Lent is that it makes it so much easier to pin the blame for both where it belongs. In the ashy shadow of the cross that has barely disappeared from my forehead, mea maxima culpa is starkly unavoidable. My digestion rebelled because of my gluttony–not necessarily the bad karma, as one of my fellow celebrants put it, of honoring Ash Wednesday and National Margarita Day simultaneously, but certainly not helped by the choice to indulge, the next day, in the sausage and peppers that look so good but have never made me anything but sick.
Some relationships are like the sausage and peppers. They look so good that even though they contain the precise combination of ingredients that have always made you sick, you hold out your plate once again. It’s so unfair to the sausage and peppers, if nothing else. And I am the worst of repeat offenders, getting back in line over and over, both at lunch and in relationships.
It’s not the sausage and peppers’ fault that we are incompatible. It’s mine for not making clear enough from the start that the hour will come when they’ll need to flee the way they came in. In the case of sausage-and-peppers relationships, the day will inevitably come when they recognize that I am exactly the smug, sarcastic, narcissistic bitch they wouldn’t believe me to be when I copped to it from the start. Or at least that is how it will appear from their side of the plate, as I can attest by a decades-long trail of letters and emails and text messages. I’m deeply sorry for it, and I wish it were different–that I were different. Working on being less of a beast is what my life as a sinner is all about. Working on not making it worse–not making the overture to the sausage and peppers in the first place–is where I hope this Lent will take me. I am praying to become something every writer both longs to be and resists: honest from the start, without modifying adjectives. If that means saying Get thee behind me, sausage and peppers, for your own good, then so be it.
And yet. I still so wish there were ways to bridge the incompatibilities of this broken world that did not involve either renunciation of all contact or mutually-assured destruction. As Elizabeth Scalia put it so well, though (emphasis hers), we “spit out the vituperative labels because it is frankly easier to muddy up the river with name-calling than actually try to swim the rougher currents, together.” Whether it’s bishops/HHS (the precipitating incompatibility in this week’s friendship flameout, though not the only one), liberal/conservative (whatever in hell those words mean anymore), Catholic/everybody-else, religious/secular, women/men, kind people/bitches, old/young, holier/thou–I wish there was more room to talk and to listen, to digest (if I haven’t extended this metaphor too far already) one another’s beliefs and passions and life stories in a space of love and trust.
I got a glimpse of what that might look like yesterday, at the movies. I took my feverish snuffling self to an all-but-private matinee screening of Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty, the Miyazaki-produced US version of the film based on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series. It’s a terrific film and I hope it gets a much wider audience than the 5 people huddled in an arena-seating theater during a Friday afternoon snowstorm, but what struck me yesterday was this theme of transcending incompatibility–in Arriety‘s case, the incompatibility of size and lifestyle between the 4-inch-tall Borrowers and the Human Beans in whose houses they live. Fourteen-year-old Arrietty, the spitfire daughter of one of the last remaining Borrower families, violates all the rules by befriending 12-year-old Shawn, a Bean made frightened and melancholy by his parents’ divorce and his own impending surgery for a genetic heart defect. Nobody’s evil–they’re just different, massively and ineluctably incompatible, and none of that changes by the end of the film. Yet the gap is bridged, no matter how briefly, without name-calling or bile. And in the end both Arrietty and Shawn are changed, gifted, by having known each other. Like the supremely incompatible Galinda and Elphaba in Wicked, in the song I would dedicate to my sausage-and-peppers ex-friend if I could, they might say (I want to say):
It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend . . .
And just to clear the air I ask forgiveness
For the thing I’ve done you blame me for . . .
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
(I do believe I have been changed for the better)
And because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
Perhaps Arrietty‘s solution works because this was a children’s film, after all, and I am incredibly naive for thinking it could work this way in the non-animated world. I suspect there’s some truth in that, and a hint in the fact that Arrietty‘s scenes of most profound healing take place in a garden. Outside the Garden is where we live, in the land of deadly incompatibilities, and Lent brings that home. But at the end of Lent is Easter, when the One who bridged the widest incompatibility of all with his life and his death, the Friend we thought we had unfriended forever, meets each one of us in a garden and calls us by name. So there is hope.