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.
God bless your family especially Karl. After going through all kinds of crap with my previous congregation over the homosexuality issue, you put the world into perspective Anna … ! Thank you. I don’t understand why some people can not find love in their hearts for their neighbor, not to mention, wasting so much time on negativity when there is true suffering in this world. I like the negativity fast. May God hold you in the palm of God’s hand. Peace.
Thank you, Debbie! I’m sorry that you struggled in your previous congregation. That notion of a negativity fast is yet one more way to help letting go of past angers, angers that really only feed on the present and do nothing about the past. Here’s to hoping for a restorative Lent for you then!
God bless Karl on this first day of Lent … and all his days. Thank you for this blog and for coming to WomanKind, especially knowing you would be in surgery with Karl just a few days hence. (I am the grandmother who talked to you about stem cells.) Your workshop was a highlight of an event with many highlights. I think everyone sitting with me Saturday morning is starting a negativity fast today, even though we all know how difficult it will be. Thanks for passing the idea along to so many more people.
Thank you for your words! That “negativity fast” notion is such a good one, too good to hoard! Peace to you and to your family, and thanks for being in my workshop!
Sending many hugs and prayers your way, Anna. What a blessing you continue to be to those of us who’ve finally found you:) Godspeed as you deal with the challenges on your journey.
Thank you so much, Anne! His first day of school was yesterday, and he had a good day. The students were glad to see him as well!
Great message and I love the idea of a negativity fast for Lent! That whole thing about giving something up seems to have lost its pallor, at least for me for now, but this seems like a beautiful idea. Peace, love, healing, and a bunch of others good things are wished you’re way.
So glad you are in my world, Char!
Anna- Being with you and your sweet family last weekend was a miracle for me. You, Karl, Else, your mom and family are in my prayers. With love and admiration.
Ruth, you defined hospitality while we were there. I thank you again for that, and now also for this comment. Peace!