Caterina and Paola were here past midnight on Monday, painstakingly covering the stone arches in the undercroft with brighty colored balloons and hanging streamers from the pillars. Aren't you tired, I asked them in the morning, as they appeared for work as usual, bright and smiling and festooned with the small children who are their charges at St. James.
Oh, no, Caterina said, not yet. And indeed, they were just beginning. Excited toddlers wore their carnevale costumes all day. Gloria de Santis made a gorgeous cake in the shape of a clown. Take a picture! someone said, and out came the cameras, flashes popping as if Madonna were in town.
I didn't make enough pancake batter and also didn't buy enough sausages. We were able to do something in midstream about the former, but the sausage deficit definitely left them all wanting more. Note to the future: 4 kili is not enough sausage. Get 6, at least. Maybe 7, because why not? We also didn't have much maple syrup -- it is not a favorite in Italy. You can buy it here if you're willing to go to a special shop that caters to foreigners and pay an arm and a leg for a small bottle. We used some Lyle's Golden Syrup instead, and also made a lovely blood orange syrup, one from cherry preserves and a big pot of applesauce.
What with the candy, the cake, the pancakes, the costume parade and the repeated exquisite tension of a really long "Musical Chairs" cycle, more than a few of our younger partygoers were hanging by a thread. It was time to go home. But the real theatre of a Shrove Tuesday supper had not yet happened: we had not made ashes for todays somber liturgies.
Somehow we got them all to sit down with their parents. We shushed everyone and got them all to whisper instead of screaming. We called an any-day-now pregnant mom and a 13-day-old baby boy to the front, introducing the babies to each other, one in the womb and one in the world. We prayed thanksgiving and protection to fall around both of them and their parents like a soft blanket. Then we turned out the lights and lit the fire, and the chidren grew silent, as children always do when they see a flame in the darkness. We prayed just a bit about children who don't get to have parties, who never have cake, who have no clothing -- never mind a funny costume -- and asked God to keep us mindful of them in the days to come. And then it was time to go home.
Even with the cleanup, we were in bed by nine.
Another Lent begins in austere weariness, ready for a season of spareness, a little more quiet. Forty plainer days are just what we need. It is seven on the morning here; our first liturgy is at eight. Remember that you are dust, we will say repeatedly today. Remember that you are tired, that you need to slow down, that you need to think. Remember that what you say and do has eternal significance, so you'd best consider it closely before you say or do it. Remember what you long ago forgot. Remember that it is never too lage to begin again to make it right, and that we don't have to make it right all by ourselves.
And remember, this Lent, those less fortunate than yourself. Even now, when we are all feeling a little unfortunate ourselves. You can receive an online daily meditation by Barbara Crafton every day during Lent to help you remember them. Visit www.er-d.org.