My first year in Colombia, living in Mampujan, I facetiously gave up almost everything for Lent: running water, carpets, spicy food, chocolate chips, winter coats, long sleeves, bathtubs, washing machines with spin cycles. Every time I bathed with a single cup full of water and ate a plate of plain rice, I felt holier than I had in years.
I ate pancakes for dinner last night. They had blueberries in them, thanks to the new frozen fruit section at the Carulla. The obvious choices of what to give up for Lent have become much more complicated.
February has been a difficult month. I have been challenged, on multiple fronts, to reexamine my life and to figure out what I truly want, both now and in the future. I am, once again, full of insecurities and doubts, paralyzed.
When I started this blog four years ago, it was for the sole purpose of keeping people connected with what I was doing in Colombia. But then, I kept on writing. And writing. When all around me was chaos, organizing words on paper was a way to make sense of the nonsensical. Today, just as the women of Mampujan worked through their history by sewing, I keep reflecting on the coast, hoping to someday have written the whole thing out of my system. When I’m bored at home, I write. I pay attention to the world around me differently now, suddenly alert the hidden stories behind everything.
While I have not arrived at some sort of mystical point, when I look back, I see a clear change in my abilities to put life into words. Paradoxically, however, the more chances I have to write, the less confidence I have and the more blocked I feel. These words are not just mine anymore but also belong to you. What if you don’t really understand what I am trying to say? What if my handpicked words don’t actually mean anything?
Coming home from work today, I saw the same people, doing the same things they do every day: standing in line to pay the electricity bill, eating free ice cream samples by the dairy counter, walking their dogs, laughing together on a park bench and running across the street. The only difference was the thumbprint smudged cross of ashes on their foreheads, a visible reminder of the power of tradition in this place. For many, Ash Wednesday is a chance to pause and reflect on life and mortality as a priest recites “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” over each forehead.
As I reflect on my own mortality, in the midst of my ordinary life, I have decided to give up insecurity for Lent. Life is too short and too beautiful to be afraid. I am going to force myself to be uncomfortable, and to pound out words, one after another, offering them up into the void. After all, existence and abilities are not flukes, but rather, practices. Although I suspect this will be more difficult than giving up carpets, it will hopefully also be a little more rewarding.