This past weekend, I found myself delicately traversing the icy banks of the Chicago Lake Shore Drive trail long into the evening. What originally began as a twenty minute walk to Belmont Harbor became a four-hour long journey from the North-side to downtown and back, and as any Chicagoan knows this path would present its share of obstacles in the wake of a frigid Chicago winter evening. As much as I bundled up, I couldn’t help but return home with a slight numbness on my face.
Yet on this walk, what began as an excuse for some fresh air became a mental adventure of sorts. With my mind merely on the music blasting in my ears and the howling wind biting my face, I was transported for a moment from the troubles of the world and the expectations of reality. Cut off from the various problems that I approach during my daily grind, I experienced a sort of lonely serenity that is difficult to discover during the trappings of a typical 24-hour day.
Somewhere along my walk I stumbled upon an iron park bench, covered in snow and colder than the weather itself. After shoveling off the mound of snow with my hands, I laid out on the bench for nearly an hour, legs crossed, dove deep into my music and thought. Alternating between perusing the stars and dancing about my thoughts, coupled with whatever music happened to be finding its way into my ears, I experienced one of the most relaxing and comforting escapes that I’ve felt in years.
Maybe it’s a product of our society as a whole, or maybe it happens to be the friend group that I’ve found myself fastened in, but I’ve become slowly conditioned to believe that happiness and ‘escape’ come from universally agreed-upon sources; crowded house parties, the last sliver of liquid at the bottom of a nearly-spent bottle of fireball, conversations that move nowhere and personal questioning that has cemented itself so solidly that it leaves and returns through a consistent feedback loop. Tradition, more realistically touted as routine, becomes a sort of trademark of the life of someone in my position.
Netflix binges, hours in front of the TV playing the same video game over and over, feeling overtly awkward as a strong introvert at a party full of extroverted social butterflies; these have all been the personal results of me being conditioned to view the world through this lens of analysis. It wears me down, it slowly saps a personal level of willpower that I’ve always taken great pride in.
I can’t escape all of these things quite yet; I have social obligations, expectations pinned upon me by large groups of people who still depend upon me for things. Yet even beyond the obligations that I cannot escape for the time being, there are things that I can do.
The arrival of the Lent season provides for me a certified way for me to justify changing as a person for a short amount of time. As opposed to the year-long commitments of the ‘New Year Resolutions’ that rather go unfulfilled after a few days, Lent provides me a time to give up the negative sources of my unhappiness and to absorb myself in the things that bring my life warmth. In the past, I’ve given up soda for Lent and even my own bed, yet this year I’m taking a more concrete spin on how I approach this spiritual challenge.
From the start of Wednesday the 18th until Easter Sunday, I’ll be giving up alcoholic beverages. So yes, I’m sorry to my friends who haven’t been able to take me out to a bar now that I’m finally legal. That will have to wait. It’s not that I even have a problem with drinking (I think it’s a lot of fun), but it’s not something I need to do. It’s just not the sort of escape that I need.
Beyond the negative energy and the negative people that I’ll be cutting out of my life, I’ll be adding things to my life as well. There are eventually moments during Lent when my desires begin to trump my common sense; I’m sure that somewhere during this ordeal, my eyes with stumble upon a bottle of super cheap wine and I will adamantly deny that any harm could come from drinking a little sip of it.
Somewhere during this process I will most likely fail. My temptations will overcome my common sense, I’ll forget to read or write as much as I aimed to do, a shot of some kind will find itself in my hand at a party. I’ll enjoy this escape for about five minutes, and once realizing how much I deceptively duped myself in believing that I could control myself, I’ll waver and retreat all the way back to where I was before I wrote this blog entry.
Or, maybe I won’t fail. Maybe I’ll wake up on Easter Sunday, peruse through a large stack of books that I read over the span of Lent, thumb through a large copy of a draft of a short story I wrote, and feel that heart-warming sense of accomplishment inside. That would be great, wouldn’t it?
We’ll see where this all gets me. But for the time being, happy Mardi Gras!!