Being Creole by marriage requires me to follow certain Creole traditions this time of year. I haven’t quite worked up to king cake status. That will likely take a few years. And today, Fat Tuesday, will be more about making boxes fat than any type of indulgence. But Lent, like red beans and rice and seafood twice a week, is a Creole tradition that I’ve grown to understand and love and have happily added to my repertoire.
[I call Lent a Creole tradition because it’s something I associate with my southern, Catholic wife (and my Catholic-schooled son) because I didn’t participate until I began dating her (coincidently, around the time he started school). ]
Although a relatively new observance in my life, I take Lent pretty seriously. I don’t make deals with the Creator lightly having found that doing so, then breaking them, makes them feel an awful lot like deals with the devil.
Ok. What to give up? What’s distracting me? Sweets don’t get in the way of my relationship with the Creator because I barely eat them. Alcohol? Not a big player in my life either these days. TV? Painting tips on HGTV and the fall of Rome on the History Channel aren’t exactly what I’d call spiritually threatening…
And then it hit me: Mean people suck.
No, really. That was my spiritual breakthrough. “Mean people suck” was my favorite saying in high school, the land where mean people are cultivated like baby Mussolini plants in a garden of hate. I never enjoyed that environment. Despite my adoration of Wednesday Addams, I just wanted to be happy and bouncy and smile at everyone. Snark and condescension, while the social currency of those four years, felt like pin-pricks in my very thin skin, whether I was giving or receiving.
Fast-forward through 4 years of college, 3 years of law school, single-motherhood, coming out as gay, and a legal career, and what you get on the other side is someone who not only got used to the snide comments and below-the-belt punches, but was throwing them herself. I was watching housewives and drag queens take swipes at one another and loving it. I rehashed twitter to my wife like a play-by-play analyst of a professional game of doing the dozens. Dirt was coming at me from all sides and I was enjoying it. And when the dirt didn’t fly fast enough, I went looking for it. It was almost addictive.
I was mean. And I sucked.
I’m not sure what did it, but last week, something clicked or some limit was reached. My spirit cried out STOP. I had allowed myself to become enmeshed in a sea of negativity and I could no longer go on like that. I admit that I laughed and enjoyed it. I know that many of us do. The horrendous hair pieces on these famous, yet balding, men. The unfortunate fashion decision of the girl two bar stools over. That colleague who screwed you over looking like an ass in front of his client. People fail all day, everyday, and those failures seem to beg for our biting commentary. Couple that with a world where anything can be news instantly and every story has a picture accompanying it, and the opportunities to read someone to filth will never stop coming.
But so too will the opportunities to just be nice. In every “gotcha!” moment, there is an opportunity to recognize the humanity in failure, and lend a hand or kind word instead of a (non-constructive) criticism. Or not say anything at all. Of course, kindness and silence aren’t newsworthy. It doesn’t get you followers on twitter or “likes” on Facebook. It won’t have your friends in fits of laughter at the bar. You won’t become a famous talk show host or blogger or write a best-seller.
And I’m ok with that. My spirit demands it. This is not a judgment of how anyone else lives their life, but of how I had allowed these things to grow like weeds and literally choke the joy out of mine. Watching, and participating in, this constant stream of judgment was making me feel small, incompetent and unworthy. The negativity was distracting me from the beauty of my Creator’s world. I had become cynical about people, including me, and, as such, was devaluing my Creator’s most wonderful creation — us. Like Shug Avery said in “The Color Purple”,
“More than anything, God love admiration. *** I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it. *** Everything wanna be loved. Us sing and dance, and holla just wanting to be loved. “
So this is my sacrifice: I will do my best to avoid negativity in whatever form it takes – entertainment, mass socialization, private conversations. I will sacrifice whatever temporary humor or feeling of empowerment or inclusion I might have had. I will strive to maintain a joyful, positive spirit. I will admire. I will love. For Lent. For life.