Driving with the Windows Open: Thoughts on Easter

It’s the night before Easter, the second Easter I have ever spent away from my immediate family. There will be more, of course. My dad called from Spokane today to say just that, in a semi-encouraging voice: “Sometimes it’s going to work, and sometimes it’s not.” And then my mom mentioned how lucky I am to be going to church at all tomorrow; they are stuck at the Convention Center watching a volleyball tournament.

And they’re right. I’m not spending Easter alone. I’m going to spend the day with my boss and his wife– both pastors– and their seven-year-old daughter– the most enlightened child I have ever met and for whom I would give up all my books, forever. And I’m a part of their family, which is what Easter means; it’s an end to the solitary time of Lent, the time of separation and anxiety and darkness.

Let me tell you, this has been a lonely, anxious, dark Lent. Part of that is my fault, of course. It is in my power both not to be alone and to be alone without being lonely. It is in my power to let my anxieties dissipate and loosen that knot around my heart. It’s really not in my power to change the weather, but I did choose to move to Oregon, and winter here is basically what you’d expect.

I’m just really bad about observing Lent. I believe it is vitally important as the contrast to Easter– no joy without suffering– but I suck at it. Because it sucks.

People “give up” things for Lent, like chocolate or coffee, which makes God sound pretty sadistic for forcing you into PMS cravings and caffeine headaches for almost two months.

I don’t. I don’t think giving up ice cream makes me– now, this is just me talking– into a better person. A thinner person, maybe, but I’ve already lost a lot of weight, and I can confirm that it did not alter my particular balance of good and bad.

Some years, I have taken on something for Lent, like a prayer habit or exercise. Those don’t last either. Just like I can’t stop biting my nails, and I don’t do the dishes.

This is the part of me that Anne Lamott calls the “bad driver.” Some people call it Satan or the Devil, but I have a problem with that. For one, it implies some outside entity with control over me, and I know that’s now how it works. For two, one Easter, a pastor told the congregation we were visiting that Satan was responsible for a gust of wind through an open window that knocked the sheet music off the piano. This, supposedly, was intended to ruin our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

Now, I can think of about a thousand things that would do a better job of ruining my celebration of Jesus than knocking the music off the piano, especially when most people sing out of tune anyway and the piano player could probably pick up the pace a bit. The list starts with volcanoes and ends with Ebola. In my head, either the pastor was wrong, or this Satan lacks some serious ingenuity.

So I’m not a fan of this “Devil” idea, but there is a part of me that’s not really trustworthy at steering the proper course. The bad driver.

The bad driver always takes the wheel during Lent. She shows up as Seasonal Affect Disorder. She shows up as self-consciousness around sexist students. She shows up when there is a choice between cookies and fruit.

I have a hard time recognizing the bad driver because she looks a hell of a lot like me. She also has things figured out, you know? Take the safe route. Lay low. Stay in bed, keep quiet, choose instant gratification.

And the truth is, I forget about her by the time Lent rolls around again. Facing her, negotiating with her, stops becoming a priority. It isn’t until just before Easter every year that I see her face in the mirror instead of my own.

And yes, that day tends to be during the first week of spring weather. It hit 70 today, by the way. The bad driver likes the indoors. The rest of me likes the indoors too, but needs far more fresh air than the bad driver allows.

I couldn’t stay outside too long today. I got overheated– in my t-shirt and lightest sweats! A miracle!– and it was hard to do my necessary work on the lawn. But I went outside. Tomorrow I’ll be out for longer, and I’ll roll the windows down.

Because tomorrow is Easter. Tomorrow is the reminder that the bad driver inside me doesn’t have to be in charge. There is a far better guide out there– one who values risk-taking, messes, creativity, failure, love, and all the steeply uphill paths that lead to the mountain top.

Some Easters, love burns with that special ache of missing the most important person in the world. Some years, it’s soft and sounds like the background music to my favorite movie. Some years, it’s the bloated feeling of eating too many rolls. (Not possible, actually, but we’ll say eating just enough rolls to reach the point of discomfort.)

But it’s there.

“Love actually is all around.”

I can’t say it quite like Hugh Grant, with his perfect accent, but he had it right. Especially when he does that dance to the radio. Gets me every time.

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