Tenuousness and Tenacity and the Commencement of Lent
It’s 8:04 on Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting in the waiting room at the hospital after just sending my son off to yet another surgery.
I am somewhat ashamed that I don’t remember how many surgeries he’s had since the accident in 2004; maybe that’s because I hope that each one is the last one.
Today is also Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
And on this surgery/Mardi Gras day, naturally I’m thinking etymologies.
It might be an odd thing, to some, that word histories are swirling in my mind at this moment, but it is a comforting habit of mine (and a fine antidote to the blaring “Law and Order: Special Victims” showing in the waiting room for our viewing pleasure). This idiosyncrasy of mine helps me sort through realities from new angles, deepening how I think through the narrow and through the broad.
The words I’m considering are relatives to each other: tenuous and tenacious.
The fusion of Karl’s surgery day, Fat Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday fuse tenuousness and tenacity too.
Tenuous comes from the Latin word meaning “thin,” (tenuis), which has as its root the prefix meaning “to stretch.”
Tenacious comes from the Latin meaning “the act of holding fast,” (tenacitas) “tough, holding fast,” (tenax) “to hold,” (tenere).
Every time that Karl’s little body is cloaked in surgical scrubs, and that little plastic mask is placed over his little face, I make a little sign of the cross on his forehead and am reminded, again, that life is tenuous. There is such a thin (tenuis) line between life and death.
But every time that Karl’s little body is cloaked in surgical scrubs, and that little plastic mask is placed over his little face, and I make a little sign of the cross on his forehead, I am reminded, again, that he is tenacious. He is tough (tenax) and holds (tenere) forth with mischievous and contagious “joyful defiance.”
I think that Mardi Gras is our tenacious defiance of the tenuousness of life.
And that isn’t all bad.
Traditionally, Lent has been cloaked too, not in surgical scrubs but in dreariness and in the subjugation of joy.
I’ve come to think that sometimes one needs tenacity just to get through Lent.
I’m not opposed to setting aside 40 days of one’s year to reflect on the tenuousness of life, a tenuousness that is starkly marked by many with the imposition of an ashen cross on the forehead.
Marking life’s tenuousness also marks its sacredness. The cinders smear into forehead grease that life has no business being squandered.
It’s to be savored. And stewarded.
And one can steward the savoring.
And one can do that with some upward heel-kicking, pancake stuffing, music enjoying indulgence (metaphorically and literally speaking), and by inviting others to join into the festive fray.
At WomanKind in Richmond, a woman announced her church’s new tradition of giving up negativity during Lent. The congregation is St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, VA, and you can read about their plot to abandon cranky thoughts here.
They caught the idea of this new kind of Lenten discipline here. The point of a Lenten negativity fast is that one can develop of habit of moving away from pessimism, criticism, contempt, and impatience (not only toward others, but also toward oneself), and moving toward constructive naming and solving of problems, and hope, and celebration.
That takes tenacity.
It is now 9:14 in the evening. Poor Karl came through the surgery well, but had deep and awful pain during recovery. Those were tenuous moments, I tell you what, seeing his little face wrinkled in pain and fear.
I smeared his forehead and his cheeks with tears while I sung “Hush Little Baby” and tenaciously insisted that he get more morphine, and then more, and then more.
And by the time he was wheeled into his room, he was cracking his why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road joke and picking his nose like he was picking a banjo, grinning all the while, and I don’t even think it was due to the morphine.
And then he laughed some more, and napped a bit (as did the mama), and then the grandma came and brought a dino squeeze toy that pelts balls out of its jaws, and then he ate, and then he puked, and then he pretended to puke just to flip out the mama, and now he’s asleep.
And I am finally writing the first OMG blog in a month, the between-two-houses action of moving and painting caught in midstream, the fabulous WomanKind conference and this surgery now behind me, and I am now subsumed by a deep exhaustion, and sipping smuggled red wine from a styrofoam cup.
And I find that I too am caught in the tension of tenacity and tenuousness, of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, of knowing that, Fat Tuesday aside, life is slender, and so let us be joyful in it.