All over the world today, people celebrated an annual event. Some call it Fat Tuesday, others by a name indicative to their own culture or language, but many aspects are the same in all lands. It is the day before the launch of the Lenten season and full of joy, merriment, and in many cases a bit of untethered self-indulgence. My 4 year old granddaughter, Lorelai, had arrived yesterday to spend the night, so this morning we had our breakfast at IHOP, one of her favorite places. That was just one piece of a day of coincidences, I realized, as I tucked her in tonight and she closed her eyes in peaceful sleep.
When Lorelai woke up this morning, she did as always and took off her pj’s and slipped into some dress up clothes. She is at the age where, although she is very confident of who she is, it is always a bonus to her visit if she can dress up like Cinderella or Belle, which is usually her choice. But not today…when she came out of her room, she was wearing a hat I had placed in the clothes bin a few visits back that she had looked at but never played with as yet. It is tall and fluffy and pink, and just a little grand for every day attire. She asked me to zip her dress, and I also realized she had on one she had never worn…again, very odd. Then she ran back into her room and returned with a mardis gras mask on. I laughed at her and said she could wear it to breakfast when she pleaded with the look that GiGi’s cannot resist. So off we went…
It was lunch time and our food order was taken quickly so we had time to just hang out together and she colored while I checked messages on my phone. One of my emails came through with a “Happy Fat Tuesday” message, and only then did I realize what day it was. I looked up and sitting across from me was a brightly masked child that had no idea she had dressed up for a celebration day. But there she was, outfitted to the nines and ready for the holiday I had not even been aware was happening.
While I was musing over this coincidence, the waitress brought back our meal. Lorelai, as usual, had ordered the create-a-face pancake. I almost invariably would look at the menu, then order a favored patty melt, but for some reason I decided to order pancakes as well today. The face of her pancake was made out of fruit and yogurt and she pretty much decorates it the same way every time. But today she decorated it, then kind of looked sad. “What’s wrong, don’t you like your pancake?” I asked. “Yes, I like it, but I REALLY wanted to have a mask for my pancake too so it could be a party and I don’t have anything to make a mask.” So we took blueberry and strawberry syrup, made a “mask” and I was struck again by another coincidence when I picked up my phone to finish the earlier email. A traditional meal on Fat Tuesday is…you guessed it…pancakes.
Interestingly enough, there was no one who commented on their own initiative to my grandchild about her feathery mask, or bright, colorful clothing, or made mention of the holiday. No one…not the waitress, the hostess, others in the restaurant as we passed by as we were shown to our booth, those we sat around, or the nice young man who brought us our food…no one made a single mention of the out-of-the-ordinary costume or the tiny tot wearing it. But Lorelai did something that brought attention to herself in a quiet way.
There were several people sitting all around us, many were women. As we were eating, she tugged on my sleeve after a few minutes and whispered in my ear ” GiGi, that lady is beautiful”. I looked over and I saw a rather plain, hard-faced woman in muted clothing sitting across from us. There was nothing drawing in her appearance, no smile or features unusual enough to catch anyone’s attention, in particular a child. “Can I tell her she is beautiful?” The woman was with a male companion, so of course I didn’t want to disturb them. Besides, it would maybe seem a little odd to someone so I said ” Well we may in a minute, go ahead and eat ok?” I was hoping to distract her, and started talking to her about what we were going to do the rest of the day and where we would go. She listened and ate, but I would catch her watching the couple closely. When it appeared they were finishing up, had paid their waitress and were gathering their things to leave, Lorelai looked at me almost in distress “GiGi, they are going home, I need to tell her she is beautiful, she needs to know I want to say that.” I could see tears brimming up in her big eyes, so rather than cause a scene one way, I decided a small scene another way was much preferred. The man stepped past our table, then the woman came along and I said “Excuse me, ma’am, she wants to tell you something.” The woman looked up, confused, and then glanced in the direction of her companion and back at us and said ” Yes?” Lorelai, in her pink hat and feathery fluff looked up and smiled brightly and said “You are beautiful!” Instantly, the woman’s face softened, and she looked down at the child and said “Oh” clasping her hand to her heart. “Oh, you are beautiful too, you sweet little thing.” She flashed a sparsely toothed-smile back at us and I saw tears in her eyes when she turned to me and said “That just made my whole day!” A few more pleasantries were exchanged, then I looked back at Lorelai. A self-satisfied grin was on her face, and her whole countenance was beaming as she said “I told you GiGi, she is beautiful!”
After our meal, as we wound through the restaurant, we went past a withered old woman eating alone, Lorelai said ” Hey, you are beautiful!” The lady reared back her head, let out a laugh that rat-a-tatted like a machine gun, and patted the child’s shoulder as she went by, saying raspily “Sweetheart you are fancy as a peacock and beautiful too!” Every chance she got, on her way to the door, she told someone they were beautiful, or she liked their shoes, or your hair is pretty…it was so comical considering her get-up but so much a magical moment suspended in time, and a life lesson I would never forget.
Fat Tuesday is traditionally the day of rich food, uninhibited behavior, bead showered parades, fun times and frolic. Fat Tuesday is followed by Ash Wednesday, a day of giving up something that you participated in, perhaps the day before. But what if the best parts of those two days were somehow blended together in our every day lives?
We go through our typical days…we work, we eat, we drink, and sleep…we do whatever we think it our mission of the moment and a piece in the puzzle we call LIFE. How many times are we in the very midst of an opportunity to celebrate that life and fail to do so because we are either afraid we will make a spectacle of ourselves, or someone will call the white coats on us, or maybe even worse we think we have no special life to really celebrate and embrace? All live the life they choose, no matter what it is. Some choose to live their life in a way that is meager and poor, that leaves them wanting more and never quite having the contentment and fullness and beauty they are promised by their Creator. They may even give up their own life’s potentially glorious future by giving into the demands of others, rather than setting a good course of peace and joy and living their own life instead of letting another’s life live them. They have a daily photograph that looks much like the woman Lorelai felt compelled to lift up…plain, joyless, hard and crushed underneath some intangible hand of fate or failed expectations. I say let’s live a combo Fat Tuesday and Lenten life…give up the nonsense, judgment, and martyrdom and instead live rich, full of celebration and merriment, spread lots of love and, well…. just put away the plain and be downright “beautiful”.