This is a strange time of year for a non-believer in the best of times.
Through social media I watch Jewish friends prepare for a Passover ritual I am intrigued by, but don’t entirely understand. People who were raised in traditions closer to my own might greet each other Sunday with “He is Risen!” Only this year it will be posts on social media instead of exclamations in church. This is not a greeting I grew up with, but religious rituals evolve; much like Catholics holding hands across the congregation during the Lord’s prayer. I didn’t grow up with this, I encountered the practice at my mother-in-law’s church. Catholics did this for a few years until someone in the hierarchy decided it was putting too much emphasis on human instead of god. It was a tradition until it wasn’t.
I was well into adulthood before I fully grasped what the Easter story was asking us to believe. It’s not that I hadn’t been paying attention during all those years of CCD and Catholic School. I remember a Good Friday one year looking out the window to see if the sky got dark at 3:00 PM like one of my teachers said it would to mark the time when Jesus died. Perhaps I was just in the wrong time zone, I don’t think there was even a cloud that day.
When you are a child, you tend to absorb what is taught to you uncritically. So much of the world is a mystery when you are learning, that it doesn’t much matter if the explanations are fact- or faith-based. Hopefully, that comes later.
As a family, our participation in the rituals of Lent and Easter were pretty superficial. As Northerners there was no Mardi Gras for us. The day before Ash Wednesday was hardly mentioned at all, but occasionally it was referred to as “Shrove” or Fat Tuesday. Shroves are like pancakes, which I believe we had once at school.
I don’t know how well I played along with the expectation of “giving up” something for Lent. There were never a lot of sweets in the house so they were not around to be sacrificed. By then no meat at Lent had been reduced to no meat on Fridays and so began a month and a half of (homemade) macaroni and cheese or tuna fish for Friday dinners. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice, just a rule.
All day I’ve been thinking about childhood Easters at my cousins’ in New Canaan. In southern CT, it was usually decently warm at Easter and we could be outside before or after the meal. My cousins had something we did not – they lived in a cul-de-sac neighborhood full of other families and kids to play with.
If it was cold or raining, we would play in their basement, pretending god knows what with my uncle’s large collection of empty beer cans. Foster’s, it seems, has always looked like a large can of motor oil. There were no video games, but lots of active imaginations.
There are other images from those days, my aunt’s delicate shamrock china with the gold trim, that I believe had once belonged to my grandmother – or at least my grandfather bought it. I can’t imagine my grandmother asking for it. He was the Irish one, and if it was in the Shannon catalog, it probably found a way into their home through him.
For many years there was an ancient, bright blue Volvo in the driveway. I remember a passing conversation with one of my cousins about music we liked, I can’t remember whether he mentioned “Cruel to be Kind” or “Games People Play.” It was one of those two. I might have talked about “Heaven on the Seventh Floor,” not having any idea of the implications, and today, not even sure the timeline is right. My cousins were a lot less sheltered than I was and their stories were a lot more interesting.
After dinner there was often a cutthroat game of hearts that the adults would play, and eventually we would be old enough to understand and join. It was very competitive. The triumph of trump cards was boisterous compared to the rather subdued celebration of success on the Scrabble board at my grandmother’s.
Today’s celebration was very simple, just my husband and I and our two grown (!) sons. No matter what the holiday though, there is a part of me that is not the adult pulling it all together, but an 11- or 12-year old who misses the ritual of visiting people important to me.