Today is Fat Tuesday, which the French call Mardi Gras, and the New Orlinians call “Money in the Bank.” It’s the last day before Lent, the 40 days in the Catholic calendar that you’re supposed to fast, abstain and wear hair shirts. When I was little, my mother, Nurse Vivian, called it Pancake Tuesday. Nurse Vivian was the last person on the planet I know who actually could make pancakes from scratch, with no help at all from Aunt Jemima. And every year as she dished up the pancakes, hot from the cast iron frying pan and smothered in butter and Karo syrup, she asked what each of us was giving up for Lent.
Pop always answered, “Skydiving and cotton candy.”
For forty years, I have given up something fattening, in the hopes that not only can I build up a little spiritual good karma, but save myself a few laps on the treadmill. This year it will probably be red meat, since this will also impress my doctor with regards to my cholesterol. Between them, my two older brothers have more than seven stents. We are a competitive family. Do I really not see myself as angling for eight?
So last Sunday was the last Sunday before Lent, which doesn’t mean much to the Catholics reading this, and even less to the Jews, Pagans and agnostics. The only real difference is that it is an “ordinary” Sunday, which means it is the last time for six weeks that the priest wears green vestments.
To get the impact of this, you need to know that my sons Zane and Aidan and my husband (Papa) and I have watched four seasons worth of Justice League on DVD. Aidan always sticks his fist out in the air, pretending to be Superman flying. Zane always runs around the house, pretending to be Flash (the African American version of course, which makes him the Flashblack.) He tells me to be Batman and he tells Papa to be Hawkgirl. Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are shared by all.
Going to church with Zane and Aidan is like sticking your head in a tornado and hoping to get something spiritual out of it. While trying to keep Zane from turning on the fire alarm and Aidan from swimming in the baptismal font, you don’t focus much on the music or the praying. Papa and I split our forces. Papa takes Aidan into the confessional (no, not the old kind, but the modern kinds with plants and candles) and plays with him, while I chase Zane up and down the steps of the choir loft.
Not all of the parishioners get our family, as we are the first married white gay couple to walk into this particular Catholic Church with our black son and our multiple race son.
I have learned not to argue with Zane in church. If Zane says, “Jesus must be very tired hanging from that cross” or “Why are all those men wearing dresses?” I don’t reason with him, since he usually just yells things like, “Daddy, you’re being mean about Mary!” and who wants to sit in a church with everyone thinking that you are mean about Mary?
So the gospel reading was about the beatitudes, and the priest talked about when he was a little kid in Ohio. He discovered standing on his head, and when he stood on his head, the clouds look like carpet, and the trees look like broccoli hanging onto the sky. “And so,” he concluded, “Sometime in your spiritual journey you have to turn yourself upside down, change your perspective on everything in order to see the real truth.”
Well, what Zane heard was “Turn your self upside down!” and so he started doing handstands down the aisle. Some of the stuffier parishioners gasped. Having paid less attention than Zane, I asked, “Zane, why are standing on your head?”
Zane replied, “Daddy!! Green Lantern told me to do it!” and he pointed at the priest in the bright green vestments, who with his ring and all, just might have been a member of the intergalactic space corps. I scurried to the back of the church, and Zane followed and the mass progressed. I put my coat on during the Agnus Dei, Zane yelled out, “Daddy!!! Aren’t you going to go get some of the magic food that Green Lantern made?”
It would be hard to sneak out the back door with all eyes on me, so I got in line for the communion, and just as I got to the front, Zane said, “Green Lantern, can you give my Daddy extra because he was quiet all through the mass?”
The priest nodded, and then leaned down and whispered to Zane, “Thank you for paying attention to my sermon.”
So there you have it, the lessons of the day: Turn yourself upside down once in a while. And what am I giving up for Lent? Expectations.