One of my favorite hobbies is people watching. Or, as an honest person might call it, eavesdropping. You might not know this, but Harvard dining halls are the perfect environment for eavesdropping. Part of that is spatial- in no other place will you get as close to your unsuspecting, conversing victims as the tray return. Part of it is human- no other community is as tragically, unabashedly, and hilariously proud as the Harvard community; and in my personal opinion, the best conversational train wrecks to witness are the ones caused by that special brand of Harvard hubris.
Now I’m mostly joking about this- I don’t treat every dining hall meal like a spontaneous dinner for schmucks. That would be awful. Still, when a particularly cocky conversation flutters into ear shot, as one did not long ago in Lowell dining hall, I like to take notice.
Girl: “Mardi Gras is on a Saturday this year.”
Interlocutor: “Are you sure?”
Girl: “Yeah like I totally remember it was on Friday last year.”
This conversation gave me pause for related two reasons. First, I don’t know French, but I know the “mardi” of “Mardi Gras” begs to differ with the girl’s first statement. Second, Mardi Gras is fundamentally a religious holiday, and the fact that it’s always on a Tuesday is significant. If Samedi Gras actually happened, we’d be forced to have an Ash Sunday and I, for one, find that even the thought of an Ash Sunday makes me feel rather strange.
Why can’t we switch Ash Wednesday to Ash Sunday? I think nearly any Christian can tell you why: Sundays are victorious days, days of resurrection and life, and Ash Wednesday is a day of atonement and mourning. An Ash Sunday would be schizophrenic: One-half “lamb of God you take away the sins of the world” and one-half “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It wouldn’t look right, it wouldn’t sound right.
Sundays are sanctified to eternal life, we can’t co-opt one to mourn our physical mortality. That’s why there are no Sundays in Lent: Because Lent is a time that is sanctified, is set aside for us to prepare for the ultimate Sunday, the Sunday that defined all subsequent Sundays. It is a time for us to pray and hope for life. It is a time for us to regret the burden of death. It is a time for us to remember who owns time.
At Harvard, we often think like Screwtape’s Patient that our time is nobody’s but our own. We live in some little way like we have our own personal time, a unique calendar that we divide and we bless in different ways that are important to us. We decide what our time means by giving hours to this-or-that club, this-or-that friend, this-or-that class. This time is ours, we think, it’s meaningful because we’re making it meaningful, not because it means something in and of itself.
But this isn’t true. Time is not personal and it can’t ever really be ours. The Ichthus as a community recognizes that we must hold time in common and as a community of Christians recognizes that nothing, let alone time, is defined or created by us. So for the next 40 days, come Hell, high water, midterms, P sets, clubs, study breaks, and papers; we ask that you spend a few moments outside your time. Every day in Lent we will post a short reflection on a section of the Gospel of Matthew, and we invite you to join us as we work our way through the whole book. Come see what it looks like to live not on Harvard time but on sanctified time.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a History & Literature and Religion joint concentrator in Lowell House.