Last Wednesday kicked off the annual Lenten season across the world. My family went to Church every single Sunday together at St.Johns in Westminster, come hail, sleet or snow, until us kids got our own driver’s licenses. Then we kind of just started doing Mass at different times or us kids’ attendance kind of secretly slacked off, unbeknownst to our parents. Sure I’ve had sprees of going for weeks at a time in high school, college, post-collegiate, but I wouldn’t say I was a regular attendant of Sunday Mass… until now. I have gone to Mass every Sunday since November 2012, when I had a near death experience.
Long story short, one miraculous Tuesday, my black CRV’s hood wasn’t closed all the way by accident from my own hand. It whipped open once I hit 50 mph, blinding me and breaking my windshield, causing glass shards to fly everywhere, including on me. A Good Samaritan, who was also a mechanic with a shop a mile away, saw my cracked windshield and bent hood. He quickly swerved to my side of the road to help a very hysteric me. Sam was this Angel’s name. He said he’s seen people beheaded from windshield glass going just 5 miles faster. Lucky doesn’t cut it. That experience proved to me three powerful things: 1.God is good. 2. It was not my time to go for some reason(s) 3.I need to spend every Sunday thanking God for the second chance to remain on this Earth by worshiping and celebrating His good love.
Since that day, I’ve learned “that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28). My mom and I joke that I have never had it easy – I’ve always had to try a little harder than most to get what I want. I was never one of those fortunate people who didn’t get pulled over, that won killer raffle prizes, that got upgraded to first-class for free on flights, or that scored the sickest job at the flick of a wrist. Since my near death experience, I’ve found love, the life-long, knows all my secrets and loves me more for them, kind of amor. One of the first and best compliments my boyfriend ever told me was that he admired my piety. In one of the first thank you notes I ever wrote him, I quoted Romans 8:28 and I knew I struck a chord with him. I could see the sincerity in his hazel eyes: Arya genuinely appreciated my piety.
So here I sat at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Baltimore last Wednesday evening, forehead decorated with ashes, heart gushing with love, nose stuffed with unbalanced congestion (I’ve been viciously sick), reflecting of how my life’s developed since that fall. Ash Wednesday last year, I was still recovering from 5 intensely spirited days in New Orléans, gallivanting around VIP parties on Bourbon Street thrown by oil companies who run NOLA with one of my best friends from college (Katie) and her amazing friends from Idaho.
This year’s Ash Wednesday was also my dateaversary with Arya. To expand, this was the one year anniversary of when the guy I digged so much paid for a quiet, uptown dinner just days before he moved to Northern California. Prior to our sit-down dinner date, I just “splurged” on a nice budget cut night out with him by buying us tickets to Silver Linings Playbook, a movie colored by mental illness. We went to this local hipster theater (Charles Village Theater) he had never been too as part of his bucket list, despite being a local for years. I had reveled in a few movies there solo style since I moved 6 months before because it is a $6 movie ticket if you get there before 6 p.m. and I like to support non-franchises, one of my socially liberal attributes. Plus, I like to revisit my California days by dressing skater chic when I catch a movie there to better blend in with the clientele, the artsy, creative types going to see the newest documentaries on the Sudan or why sugar is the devil…
Post flick, Arya asked if I wanted to grab dinner with him so he could pay me back for the movie (“But Arya, your ticket was basically $5 stud…”). We both rattled off dinner ideas all over the city, but then agreed to stay in Mt.Vernon because we hardly ever hang out around there. He had been dying to try this restaurant he had heard great things about called Cazbar. At the age 27 (then 26), I’m interested in trying new things and honestly, my palate needs to be expanded. “It’s kind of Mediterranean style restaurant, so if you love hummus, lamb and feta like I think you do Jessica, I think you’ll like this type of food.”
While we dined, I felt like I was let in a big secret: that Persian Arya was actually part Turk. This is why he suggested us to eat at Cazbar since it is a Turkish restaurant. I learned that both his parents are from the Turkish part of Iran called Tabriz. Tabriz is located in present day Iran, but it once was a part of Turkey. While at Cazbar, we chatted about how was ironic it was that there is a Turkish restaurant next to my house owned by an Iranian owner called Tabrizi’s, named after the town Arya’s parents are from.
So a year later (last Wednesday), bi-coastally, we were celebrating our dateversary via our textual conversation because we are long distance and it was a work day. From the office, I ordered surprise Turkish food for Arya from this place called Bursa in San Francisco because the dynamite Yelp Reviews convinced me this food flew in first class from Istanbul.
No Turkish restaurants deliver in SF I learned after days of calling and researching in advance, so I told Arya he had to pick up a package for me 9 minutes away from his house. Arya said was leaving the gym shortly, so he’d pick it and he didn’t ask up any questions (talk about trust…). When I called Bursa, I requested my order for pickup, then starting rattling off my nearly memorized credit card number because of its high frequency usage. The gentleman on the phone stopped me because the restaurant only accepts payments live, but after I explained this was a surprise for my Turkish boyfriend because he took me on our first date last year to this Turkish restaurant a year ago today and I am in Maryland ordering this food, he laughed and happily jotted down my numbers with a smile seeping of sentiment that I could hear on the line. “Rules were made to be broken,” said my new Turkish friend.
Later that day, Arya asked what I was giving up for Lent via text. I replied I am giving up chips as I weekly eat far too many chips with guac or loaded nachos when out. He texted back immediately, “I will give up chips too, then. #solidarity.” I can’t help but think of that Lorde’s song lyrics, “And you know, we’re on each other’s team.” He visits our favorite Mexican taco shop (shout out to Cancun) biweekly where everyone gets free chips, so I know this will be a struggle. But Lent is a time of sacrifice, stemming from Love. God loved us first so we could love one another.
This season, I was at the office one day playing the top 100 Tracks on Spotify including Lorde’s “Team.” It ended and then, “Let it Go” from the Frozen soundtrack came on next and my fantastic coworker, Karen, a great mother of three little ones, cheered, “Yes! Frozen!” I said “Oh, I don’t know this one, so that’s where this song is from. Nice.”
Because of my general distaste of modern animated movies/Pixar (minus Finding Nemo and Shrek), I shortly after skipped to “Bastille” by Pompeii, without even really thinking about it or taking the time to listen to the lyrics, despite Karen’s excitement. I just chalked it up to my disinterest for not having princess-loving daughters of my own yet, but yes, I wasn’t listening.
Fast forward to a stretch of a few days was I was involved a bit of a conflict. I lose sleep and seek advice on upsetting issues like this, so this just wrecked me. I remember talking to my mom about it because she knows everything that touches my life as we talk nearly daily and she piped up, “Jess, I have the perfect song for you to listen to.” She whipped up the music video and I sighed because this was the song I sort of dissed at work, but at that moment, I found such comfort from. The song’s primary premise is to take the high road and to not let things weigh you on you because they just drag you down with a heavy heart. This is something I struggle with in and out of Lent because I am quite sensitive if you really know me. But my mom’s advice, coupled with Karen love for this song, did the trick that day and I played “Let it Go” on repeat for days.
Last week, Idina Menzel performed at the Oscars. John Travolta introduced her, but due to his dyslexia or just from nerves, he pronounced her named “Adele Dazeem.” The silver lining here is that more people know Idina Menzel’s name now more than ever because of all of the attention that moment caused. Seconds after Idina’s performance, Ellen DeGeneres, took it upon herself, to even say Idina’s name twice, so her correct name would be ingrained in people’s heads.
Even if you aren’t religious, there are a series of other happy and loving holidays across the globe that intertwine hues of Lent’s love. These miscellaneous days weave real life with religions and cultures, providing challenges and lessons for us to live through, love along, and learn from. If you are Jewish, you celebrate the love of your people taking over an Empire through the costume-oriented celebration of Purim (March 15th) this month (think a happier Halloween equivalent). Whether you are Irish or not, people deck themselves out in green and celebrate the luck of the Irish (and love for the Irish). Baltimore, for Pete’s sake, celebrates St.Patty’s Day for three weekends. During March, NCAA basketball fans celebrate the love of the game through their March Madness participation. Persians celebrate their New Year on March 21st. I remember this because that was the day Arya moved last year and I thought it was symbolic for his new California chapter to begin. April Fool’s day brings comic love to the table, by playing practical, not painful, jokes on meaningful people in your life. Taxpaying American citizens celebrate the money they get back from the IRS during this Lenten season as long as they send in their taxes by April 15th. Not to mention, I’m sure accountants rejoice on April 15th for love of busy season being finally over.
So back to me in my pew last Wednesday, watching 11 minutes of people getting Ashes causing my pensive brain to wonder… I was thinking just like Arya moved last March, my best friends, engaged fiancés, Kris and Matt, start their next chapter on lucky March 7th (last Friday) in Austin. Arguably, these two seriously shaped my pre and post California time in Baltimore. I remember living in California and loving my life, but still found myself daydreaming of living in Baltimore and paling around with these two lovers, the amazing people who helped me grow into my own this decade.
They came to my grandmother’s viewing. They brought me a birthday cake to my Belvedere hotel party last year and brought me a balloon/bouquet after I successfully passed my polygraph (a work related test) this winter. Kris, after spending nearly $4k on their dog because of an emergency surgery just days before, gave me a new cross necklace this year for my birthday because I had tarnished my current one. These two were my moral compass, my psychologists, my ever-laughing audience, my support system, my fastest friends to text me back, and just some of the best friends God could give me. I will miss them terribly. Daily. Thank the Lord for Gmail/ Imessaging/Group threads/Snapchat.
Now back to my pew a week ago…. In so many aspects of my life, I am surrounded by many people. But on Sundays at Mass, that is my time for just me and the Big Man Upstairs. So the choir was on to their 3rd song because there are so many people receiving ashes. I really was in awe of how many people wanted to start their Lenten journey out right by attending Mass on this holy day of obligation. The choir serenaded my eardrums and soul with “Without Seeing You” and of course, next thing you know, I’m getting a little emo, tearing up by myself. I cry in church probably once a month over ridiculous stuff like Baptisms for babies I don’t even know. (The first was a precious, little black babe, then a baby whose parents were named Jessica and Ryan, Arya’s middle name. Go figure.)
“Without seeing You we love You. Without touching You we embrace.Without knowing You we follow. Without seeing You we believe.”
And it takes me back to my relationship with God, my parents, my family, my friends, Arya. I know God was in my Honda CRV that day deciding to keep me on this Earth. I never need to make an appointment to talk to him. I haven’t physically seen Him, but I have seen Him in the grin across my darling nephew’s face and in the elderly woman who sits in front of me in Mass who shakes all of her friends’ hands on her way to her seat.
I’ve felt His soothing effects all over. I know I’ve been in His presence and He’s recruited angels to guide me (see my family’s angels pictures). My parents, family, friends, embrace me with well wishes and kind words that touch my heart in ways I wish I could bottle up and save for later in my medicine cabinet. And Arya, the greatest guy who lives a continent away, is ever-present. I see signs of him all over my house, inside jokes that float in the air, and in my funny anecdotes I share with my friends and coworkers, he plays the ever-leading character.
When I visit San Francisco, I attend Sunday Mass at my west coast Church, St.Agnes in Haight Ashbury.
There are so many amazing things about the weekly masses at this church. I won’t divulge all of them right now because this post is long enough, but I genuinely like that during the Eucharistic procession, the last row goes first and the first row goes last. It makes me think of the Gospel reading by Matthew 19:30, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” During the Mass, we always recite the beautiful, St. Francis’ Prayer, I think because the city was named after St. Francis, but I made it my Lenten promise to myself to memorize this prayer for my personal prayer arsenal. I extract so many powerful things from this prayer and I wish this Mass tradition was a part of the South Baltimore weekly Mass regime. The prayer goes as follows:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
All people are born with original sin, but I still believe people are naturally good as you see love transcend different cultures and obstacles daily. Read a Buzzfeed article, a Huffington Post blog post, or (hopefully) your news feed on Facebook to see acts of kindness.
Lent is a time of sacrifice, but that sacrifice derives off of love of the Lord because He loved us first, so that we could love each other. After Ash Wednesday Mass on the day of my ridiculous dateaversary, I came home to surprise lilies. At my house because 365 days ago from last Wednesday, I told Arya (after many a glass of wine) they were my favorite flower because he asked. I didn’t have one at that time, but I didn’t want him to know that because it made it sound like I didn’t get flowers (truthfully, I had only received roses prior, but not many and certainly not a lot from guys other than my dad). I knew girls liked lilies, so I just rolled with that answer assuming they must be pretty if I’ve heard girls talk about them in casual conversation.
When he moved to SF on the Persian New Year, March 21, I received my first bouquet of sweet-scented lilies, each more lovely than the next in summer shades. I remember I thank him and asked them to enlighten me on what type of exotic flower these were. He thought I was kidding. “There your favorite flower, lilies, just like you told me at your house after Cazbar.” A year later, I was still surprised and stoked that we both made plans to surprise each other despite the distance.
After I cut the stems, used the flower food and added water to the vase, I crawled into my bed with tissues to watch Modern Family, sick as a dog, waiting for the cough medicine with codeine to kick in. In his closing remarks during the episode on Ash Wednesday, my favorite character, Phil Duffy said, “the truth will set you free. It brings us closer.” Wise words for the first day of Lent I thought to myself.
So I invite my readers to be truthful, to set yourself free, to let it go, to look for the silver lining in your own life’s playbook, to cut one food from your routine diet as a sacrifice, to surprise a loved one, to write thank you notes to those you love, to reflect on a near death experience, to hit up Church or reconciliation (if Catholic), to accept things out of the ordinary by making exceptions to rules (like going out on a limb by accepting a girl’s credit card payment over the phone), but above all, to just let Lent’s love pour into your life, however that may be. Happy Lent loving to you all.