Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lent: Mindless Fridays

My parents had me over for dinner last night...well, actually, I invited myself, but they were happy to have me. Mom made a roast chicken and was telling my dad to take it for lunch the next few days, then stopped herself and said, "BUT don't forget, NO MEAT on Wednesday because it's Ash Wednesday." I have a long standing tradition of giving my family the business about Ash Wednesday and meatless Fridays during Lent, a tradition that I imposed long before I became atheist.

First, came the objection to fish. I didn't understand how fish was not meat. Somehow, with no degree in biology, food science, or bioethics, the pope is able to distinguish these highly debatable concepts to a level of certainty that Catholics trust. Fish isn't meat because the pope says so.

Then came (and still often comes), the idea that, okay, the pope says fish isn't meat, but you still don't have to eat fish. I've always liked fish and didn't have a problem with that as a child, but I did have a problem with my folks constantly whining, "Oh, it's so hard to drop by Captain D's during Lent. Oh, fish is so expensive this time of year. Oh, I'm so tired of fish.....oh, blabla, similar whining, whiney whine waaaaah."

As someone who's gone mostly vegetarian, I have lots of advice to give a couple of folks that think meat at every meal is not only preferable, but a human necessity. I love being told my health philosophy is wrong by two obese people with arthritis, body aches, and type II diabetes, by the way. I told them to stop agonizing over fish. They could try omelets, quiches, stir fry, noodles, veggie stews, veggie soups, falafel. Hell, I even told them to order pizza with no meat toppings and THAT wasn't good enough either!

One Friday a few years ago, I distinctly remember practically forcing my mom to make eggplant parmigiana (I would have gladly made it for them, but my mom is a control freak about the kitchen at times). She was all distraught about what to make because it was a year my dad was out of work and the family couldn't afford fish. I, again, presented the argument that you don't have meat at every meal anyway, and that you don't have to have fish. I told her how cheap eggplant was, printed a recipe, and put it in front of her.

"Oh...it's really easy! I thought it would be difficult."

Everyone raved about how delicious it was. How many subsequent times has she made it? Zero.

No, apparently, they'd much rather complain than solve their problems simply. Such is the life of a Catholic. They seem to take some sort of petty pleasure in knowing they've suffered. On a side note, never get two suffering Catholics in a room together. It will become some kind of weird, masochistic pissing contest to determine who is suffering more.

As if fighting the American institutionalized OMG MEAT mindset weren't difficult enough, always the question of religious tradition came and was, in their minds, defeated by being ignored. For young parents out there that know they have a reasonably intelligent kid, don't subject them to ridiculous rituals and expect not to have to answer a few questions. Alas, my parents never did and to this day never do address it.

My mother is main culprit. My dad kind of rolls his eyes and says, "I dunno," which in this case the pacifistic marital euphemism for, "I don't actually give a shit, but your mom does all the shopping and all the cooking, so she decides." Once in a while, he'll do what any decent husband should do and stand up for her, even when he knows she's being ridiculous, and say, "It makes your mom feel better, so let her do it."

How doing something that totally inconveniences one's life makes one feel better is beyond me. Again, I claim it's that Catholic affinity for suffering. Just ask Mother Theresa. Still maintaining the silliness of it all, in adulthood, my questioning has gotten to be bolder, "Mom, why do you do this? You don't go to church, you don't say the rosary, you don't even know what's in the Bible -coughandmeatlessfridaysaren'tintherecough-, you don't even like doing this because you always complain you can't get fish, but you refuse to eat vegetarian, and you know exactly how silly it is because in your life time, eating meat on any Friday went from being a mortal sin to being a venial sin, and even at that, now it's only a few weeks a year. Why do you bother?"

Every time we get on the topic, her body and mouth visibly tense up, as if the strain of thinking about these things is too much, and the answer is, "Because!"

Shortly after, we get to the argument that any child above age three has had with at least one parent, "Why?"


"Because why?


Somehow, in the mom mindset, saying, "Because," with determination means you win.

WORSE! She informed me last night, "Well, technically, I don't have to do it because of my age."

"When did that happen?" I asked. I honestly never knew there was an age limit.

"You only have to do it ages 14 to 59," she said. She likely never told us this because as children, my sister and I would have objected and she certainly wasn't going to provide separate meals for us.

"Since when?"

"Since always," she said.

Then I remarked how it added yet one more layer of ridicule to the whole practice, but of course it got me nowhere but the Daytona 500 of why/because.

In my unmentioned number of years on this planet (I don't like to share my age, but let's say I'm at least old enough to have been drunk a lot) I have yet to get an answer beyond that. Sometimes, perhaps when she doubts it herself, she'll actually say something to the tune of, "It's the last straw. If I don't at least cling to this, then it means I have no connection with the Church."

...which is exactly my point. Of all the finer points of Catholicism, THIS is the one that proves you still have faith? How obscene. Speaking of obscenity, why should a meddling, young woman stop her mother from doing something that gives her mother "great comfort?"

I have seen the direct harm clinging to faith has done to her and the rest of the family. Though she doesn't do it the traditional, Catholic way with beads and and pre-written monologues, she claims to pray. She knows there is no power in prayer. She's been praying for a good decade and a half for my parents' economic situation to improve. It never has. Yet, she keeps holding out, keeps clinging, thinking there may yet be a silver lining on this 15 year storm cloud, thinking that God is watching and waiting for the precise moment when it's perfect to help them. Meanwhile, my heart breaks as I watch them both deteriorate, getting closer to returning to the earth's crust from whence they came, never stopping to embracing these autumn years as they should, but rather victimizing themselves while helplessly hoping to be rescued.

She has seen the direct harm it has done to the family. In fact, when I was a child and questioned when her parents visited (they lived in Michigan, we lived in Georgia), why her father never went to church. She avoided the question for years, using the why/because defense as usual. Eventually, when he was close to death and I was still worried for his soul, she told me her father didn't go to church anymore was because one of the many times he had cancer and he and my grandmother struggled to survive physically and financially, the Church told them to just keep supporting the Church financially, and all would be as it should be. He got angry and never returned. How that message never penetrated the females of the family is beyond me. I know that even as a fairly young child, it shook my reality a bit.

So, despite all knowledge to the contrary, they cling to this suicidal hope that someone is going to rescue them. I watch them starve themselves emotionally. If there were anything in the world I thought I could do to change the situation, I would, but they're set in their ways strictly as a matter of principle. They'd rather die than admit they're wrong, and sadly, I know they will. Pin It

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