Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Give It Up

Lent begins today. For the next 40 days I will try to stick to my Lenten "sacrifice" of not complaining. Ideally, this sacrifice will become a habit, and I will find I gain time, breath and peace of mind formerly wasted on blowing hot air about things over which I have no control.

Make no mistake: I am not a chronic complainer. I'm overall proactive and positive--sometimes naively so--and I usually look at the bright side of things. Still, I feel like lately I've been more critical and negative with respect to certain areas of my life, and I don't like it. I want to change it. Lent seems like the perfect time to do it. I've already ditched sweets on a regular basis, quit smoking 16 years ago, gave up fast food 19 years ago and I almost never drink alcohol anymore. (No wonder I'm complaining.) Might as well give up this. 

Complaining is something my exceedingly positive and faithful grandmother warned me about when I was studying for my midlife career shift into teaching. She had more than 40 years in the profession, including a few years as principal, and yet she rarely doled out unsolicited advice about it--except once: "Just be careful who you ally yourself with in a school. You'll find that some teachers, in any school, spend most of their time complaining and blaming rather than reflecting and improving." 

These were some of the most important words I ever heard about fitting into the culture and climate of  a school. But it is not my job that has me feeling more cantankerous lately. In fact, my job is a highlight of my life. I love it, I love my students and I love some of the talented and selfless people with whom I work. Teaching is simply a fit with my life in a way no other job has been, especially now that I'm teaching high school. I enjoy going to work in the morning. I missed my colleagues and students during our extended mid-winter break. I want to teach in some capacity over summer vacation. Teaching is hard work, but it brings me a lot of joy. It doesn't aggravate me. (Well, not much and not most days, anyway.) 

Other things do, though. I can pinpoint a few things that get my Irish up. Some days my eyes can't roll high enough in my head over these triggers. But is it worth it to actually complain about them--especially if there is nothing I can do to change them? No. And after 16 years of yoga and lots of meditation, I know this. Still, enduring this impossibly long winter, coupled with grieving the death of my father throughout it all, definitely has me a little more contemptuous than usual when it comes to things that annoy me. 

When I want something, I go for it. In this case, I want to stop allowing myself to be annoyed by things that are truly of no consequence. Sounds simple enough, although I know some days it won't be. But life really is short, and I don't want to waste any more of it on things undeserving of my attention. 

In a little while the boys and I will head out to an evening Ash Wednesday service, where the priest will cross our foreheads with the ashes of last year's Easter palms. The last Ash Wednesday that Grandma was alive was two years ago, and at the time I was a student teacher at the very school where I am a full-time faculty member now. After receiving ashes, my brother, sons and I went to visit Grandma, who was too frail from cancer to go to services that night. It may have been the first time in her life that she had missed receiving ashes. We visited in her warm and snug kitchen, sharing stories about teaching and listening to the boys share stories about school. We teased her about skipping services, and I asked her if she wanted some ashes. I rubbed my index finger on the cross smudged into my forehead and gently touched the thin skin above her brows, making the sign of the cross in faded, second-hand ashes from St. Bernadette Church. The boys giggled at the gesture. 

It's one of those genuine moments forever frozen in time for me. Less than two months later Grandma died. 

Tonight the boys and I will once again bare our foreheads to receive ashes, something that for me always signifies the start of spring and baseball as well as Lent. And if some of the inky soot from Father's hand sifts down onto my eyelashes like it does every year, I won't complain.