Lent is the season in the Christian Liturgical Calendar where we honor the self-discovery of Jesus. Most of us associate this with fasting or some level of self-denial. The most common association is probably the practice of eating fish on Fridays, but is also commonly observed by giving up sugar or alcohol. Christians more evolved than myself sometimes take on another practice, like reading the Bible more during this time, or by giving something away that they don’t need anymore.
At the level of freelancing that I’m at, my busy season starts in late October and lasts until the beginning of January. February and March are light to non-existent, and I literally count my change and deposit it until Easter, when work picks up again. Three months of biting my nails to make rent, and then being confronted with a month where I’m supposed to atone and be grateful, feels daunting and incredibly unfair.
After a busy holiday season, we can all relate to the bliss of having nowhere to be and nothing to do. I always save, so we can afford to go out and pay bills for the first month. The second month comes, and we go out less, and I stretch the bills as long as I can. By the third month, all of the savings I’ve made during the busy season are gone, and I’ve cashed in all the rewards and credit card points I can to get us through to the next month. Lent comes, and I’m supposed to give up more. Like I said, feeling like I have to give up alcohol when I can’t afford it just gets depressing, like I’m too much of a failure to repent.
In the days that lead up to Lent, I find myself thinking about the work that everyone else has while I’m sitting at home, out of things to watch on Netflix because I’ve simply been home too long. I retrace every year of my career and try to pinpoint the one bad decision I made that landed me where I am, practicing myself into a back spasm with no income to get us through to the end of the month. I make detailed matrixes to dissect every aspect of my playing to try and figure out why I’m not farther along in my career for my age, why I don’t have some of the work that seems to keep everyone else out of the ditch that I’m stuck in. The empty hours eat away at me, and when I think I’ve found the mistake or the technical defect in my playing, I realize that it’s too late, that no matter what I find, it won’t change the fact that no one knows or cares who I am or what I do. It’s simply too late. It’s Liturgical Lent after Career Lent.
Then I think of the copious amounts of love I have in my life. I have a husband who doesn’t necessarily understand me, but supports me. I have two kids that are overflowing with joy and happiness, and I have a mother who will move her life to help us when we need it. I have a sister who will float groceries and a smile when I’m really in a bind. I have in-laws that will see us through when we need extra time or resources in those months where I have to stretch. At the end of the day, I have a place where we can all sleep and where I can keep my horn, even if it’s not in a locker in midtown somewhere. Being grateful for the basics is all I can ask for in this life, even if other people get to ask for more, or so it seems.
And then I go shopping and see a homeless teen eating in a grocery store and running out before I can offer to buy a sandwich for them. I see a senior citizen sitting alone in a diner, or a pile of blankets on top of a subway grate on a freezing cold day. Realizing there’s nothing I can do for them, I sit in that misery with them, unless they’re willing to accept a kind word in place of the money I can’t spare. This time of sparseness teaches me that, even when things are bad, I have a job where the operative verb is “play”, and the worst thing about it is that I don’t get to do it all the time. Lent is God reminding me that I spend most of my year enjoying my life, and that many people, musicians and non-musicians, don’t get that at all. Suddenly my Netflix problems highlight the amount of privilege I’ve had in my life, and am able to offer to my own kids.
So after all is said and done, I can’t benefit from giving something up during Lent at this time in my life. Rather, it’s a time for me to feel sorry. Sorry for everything I ever was and could have been, sorry for every bad performance I’ve ever had, sorry for every person that is more miserable than I am, and may have done less to deserve it. Lent is also a reminder that this dark time is a season, which means that I know it will pass. When Easter comes, this memory will stay with me and encourage me to keep giving when it’s my turn to give. After all, isn’t Lent really about Easter and the blessings we enjoy because of it?