Never, never, never give up.
-Winston Churchill

Yesterday was Thursday, a clinic day for me. I had scheduled an interview with a 5 year old boy, a kindergartener at one of the local Catholic schools. I went out to the waiting room to greet his mother and him. “Hello, I’m Dr. Elizabeth.”

He looked up at me and I saw a black mark on his forehead. I immediately thought of Ash Wednesday, which had been the day prior. However, this was more of a defined mark than a smudge.

“Did you get a tattoo on your forehead for Ash Wednesday?”

And he had, a temporary one, in fact. It looked like the remnants of a larger tattoo, perhaps a red race car. The boy put it there because his ash smudge had worn off before he wanted it to.

I found this to be a rather delightful perspective and one that was very different from my time smudged memories of smudged foreheads past. I remember, as a teen, feeling very self-conscious about them. Teen like to call attention to themselves but typically not when it is an authority’s idea. I was taught that it was disrespectful to take the ashes off. They were to stay on until God, gravity, or the bed sheets, rubbed them off.

I was a pretty devout child and young woman.  But I do remember taking it off once. I don’t remember quite how I did it because I would have wanted to make it look accidental or gradual. “Mom, I slipped in the bathroom and a hand towel that brushed past my forehead, broke my fall!” You know, some lame excuse like that.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten season, which last 40 days. A strong theme of Lent is sacrifice, namely Jesus sacrificing his life to cleanse humanity of sin. As such, there are traditions of Lenten sacrifice. People “give up” meat (terrestrial animals) on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent. There are fast days when people eat less, and more simple food than usual.

Then there is the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” When my mother was a child, it was common to give up candy for Lent. She used to tell us how some kids “cheated” by putting their candy in a drawer during Lent but then binging on it as soon as Easter came. I don’t remember what I used to give up but I know that I did it. I remember having mixed feelings about the sacrifices of Lent, about giving up.

“Given up” has so many meanings. However, it typically connotes a loss or weakness.

We have given up when we make sacrifices for the greater good.

We have given up when we view ourselves as helpless and neglect our responsibilities to ourselves and to others.

We have given up when we accept painful realities, lessening suffering.

Only one of these examples involves passivity and weakness. The other two sources of “given up” require fortitude.

I no longer follow most Lenten rituals but in my 30’s, I decided that I would use it as a time to “give up” on things that were adding suffering to my life. I have attempted to give up guilt and impatience, for example. I knew that I really couldn’t totally give these things up but what I realize now is that I was working on being my mindful, less judgmental of myself and others, and thereby more accepting of myself and others.

Cancer is by no means a gift, but it certainly is a time for reflection on suffering and acceptance. When I decided to study mindfulness nearly three years ago, I had a much narrower definition and experience of it than I do currently. And currently, I believe that I have just scratched the surface.

I give up for freedom.

I give up for peace.

I give up for acceptance.

I give up to be who I am and where I am in this given moment of time.

And then I do this over and over and over. For as many opportunities that I have to repeat myself, I am most grateful.