Today is Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is upon us. If you live in a Catholic town (like Chicago), you'll see plenty of "angels with dirty faces" on the street today.
I was raised Catholic. Actually, I was raised Lutheran, converted to Catholic when my Lutheran mother died and my Catholic father remained, then switched to whatever the heck I am now. In any case from 11 to at least 17, I was pretty much Catholic and observed Lent faithfully.
Fridays were the big day during Lent. Traditionally, in addition to giving up something else of their choice for the season (usually chocolate or procrastination or something else you'd never be able to give up completely), Catholics give up meat on Fridays during the Lent season. I'm a fish-eating vegetarian now, but boy was it difficult going without meat back then; no bacon for breakfast, no ham sandwiches for lunch, no minute steak or stew for dinner.
Oh the pain in having fish or peanut butter sandwiches or cheese pizza in the school cafeteria when you really just wanted a bratwurst or a salami sandwich.
Lent was like so many things at that age, a very dramatic battle with high stakes - our eternal souls. We were convinced that if we ate meat and didn't get to confession we were done for. Sure, you could confess eventually if you accidentally forgot and had a bologna sandwich for lunch, but if you got hit by a bus between school and the confessional you were doomed to burn. "Sorry, Mother Teresa, you did some good things with those starving kids in Calcutta and all, but you had a bit of lamb vindaloo on a Friday you thought was Thursday during Lent so it's off to the flame pit with you." We really worried about things like that.
Of course, also like teens throughout the ages (and especially like Catholic teens, I'd bet), I became a real lawyer with the rules. On Friday nights my dad would be asleep early. He woke up at 3:45 every morning to get to his work in the city by 5:30 so he turned in around 8:00 or 9:00 most nights, leaving me essentially unsupervised.
I would stay up late as the rule, but especially on Fridays. At about 11:50pm, most Fridays, and always when I had friends sleeping over, we'd put a frozen sausage pizza in the oven. 11 -15 minutes later, the day had passed, it was officially Saturday morning, and the pizza was ready for some god-friendly pork sausage eating action. Sometimes I just called my friend Thad on the phone (yes, at midnight - his parents were pretty sound sleepers and he also stayed up late), and we both teen-lawyed us up a sausage or pepperoni pie while talking about how cool or un-cool the new Camaros were.
I knew I was stretching the rules by putting the pizza in before Lent Friday was over, but I also figured you can't convict a man (or damn him) for violating the spirit but not the letter of the law. Thad became a successful Harvard lawyer, and I think this parsing of the rules of Lenten damnation may have set him on his eventual career path.
Even today the sight of dirty foreheads make me want to score some cardboard crusted frozen pizza late on a Friday night. Mmmm.
Pics from BBC and PETA Germany