Doing extraordinary things for other people
Every year round about this time, when my children were still in primary school, there was the inevitable dinner table discussion about who was giving up what for Lent. My sons would try to change the subject and bluster their way out of making any form of commitment.
Their younger sister, however, used to annoy them intensely when with enthusiasm and excitement, she would announce that she was once again going to give up nuts and raisins, which she did with dedication and courage, never once in six weeks allowing a nut or raisin to pass her lips.
Thirty years later, just after her first child was born, she and I were sitting in her lounge talking about the old days. She asked me if I was proud of her for producing a grandchild, and I replied that I was proud of a lot of things she had done, but never so proud as those days when she was not much more than a toddler when with such determination she had given up nuts and raisins for Lent.
Oh for heaven’s sake, Dad! she said. Didn’t you ever work it out? I hated nuts and raisins!
My daughter would have got on well with a fellow called John, the only Protestant to move into a largely Catholic neighbourhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on his braai. Meanwhile, all of his neighbours were eating cold tuna and lettuce for supper.
The neighbourhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John. They decided to try to convert John to Catholicism. They went over and talked to him, and before long he decided to become a Catholic.
They took him to Church, and the priest sprinkled water over him, and said: You were born a Protestant, you were raised a Protestant, and now you are a Catholic. The men were so relieved; now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved.
The following year the first Friday of Lent came and just at supper time, when the neighbourhood was sitting down to their tuna and lettuce they were suddenly conscious of the delicious smell of steak cooking on a braai. The neighbourhood men could not believe their noses! WHAT WAS GOING ON?
They went across to John to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent. There he was standing over his braai holding a small jug and sprinkling water over his steak, saying, You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish.
But, the most ingenious Lenten dodge of all comes from the Irishman who moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry. He walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers.
The barman raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone.
An hour later, the man has finished the three beers and orders three more. This happens yet again.
The next evening the man again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times. Soon the entire town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers.
Finally, a week later, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of the town. I don’t mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?
Tis odd, isn’t it? the man replies, You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keeping up the family bond.
The bartender and the whole town was pleased with this answer, and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink.
Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening. He orders only two beers. The word flies around town. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the brothers.
The next day, the bartender says to the man: Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know, the two beers and all…
The man ponders this for a moment, then replies: You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.