L. E. J. as the late Ernie K-Doe
Yours Truly in a Swamp
Leonard Earl Johnson
Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans
"Ain't nothing in the world time and money won't cure." ~ Ernie K-Doe, New Orleans Musician and Emperor of The World
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Forty Days of Lent
by Leonard Earl Johnson
On Ash Wednesday, all over Louisiana, Carnival lifted its joyous mantle, leaving Lent's ashen smudge in its place. At New Orleans Saint Louis Cathedral, business suits stood cheek-by-jowl with crimson capes and smeared-lipstick ladies awaiting priests dressed in the vestments of Sorrow putting The Sign of The Cross on their foreheads, with thumbs dipped in the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday palms. Outside, a soft rain washed The City. I have many doubts about theological things, but none whatsoever about this ceremony. To ashes we shall return.
Lent is the strangest holiday in all the Christian calendar. Also the longest. Should you need reason to be suspicious of any religion's political powers, consider this fact: Carnival's pleasurable length shortens. Lent's, by Canon Law, never does.
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Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the last day of Carnival's ever-changing season of joy. Next day, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent's never-changing season of suffering.
The Catholic Calendar, by which we measure all this, is not too accurate, what with the date of Easter changing with the moon!
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Easter is the end of Lent. It is also a ceremony about Spring. Borrowed from religions that came before Christianity. It may be the oldest human celebration, and it is calculated (or miscalculated), again by Canon Law, with instruments created with faith in suffering and suspicion of pleasure.
Suffering is not to be monkeyed with in theological calculations. Carnival's pleasures, however, are reducible, by God (or His agents with their inaccurate stopwatches).
Lenten fasting repairs Winter's damage and Carnival's excess, and prepares us for Spring's rebirth. Like the jazz man says,
"Blow the roof off the sucker ..."
It has been a good Lent this year, with sunny mornings and a warm place in the kitchen to read Internet newspapers and sip coffee. The live oaks outside our dormer windows are a soft young green. Live oaks don't dump their leaves till Spring's new buds arrive (as followers of JFK conspiracies know). Then they change from old dark green to young soft green almost overnight. Today soft-green rules Big Swamp City, and we old alligators lie on the banks in whatever sun we can find dreaming of Easter baskets and Spring.
(A version of this story first appeared in 2004)
Copyright, 2010, Leonard Earl Johnson
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