I’ve been meaning to write this for a year and a half.
Last Mardi Gras I walked out of my St. Charles Ave. apartment at 7pm in a total haze to meet some friends for Lebanese food. I squinted my eyes and looked around after just having woken up from days (fine, weeks) (fine, like a month and a half) of parades and parties and beads and king cakes and mimosas, staying up way too late and attending way too little class, to a totally empty and ghostlike street at dusk. It was trashed. The city had partied itself silly, vomited plastic cups and beads, and disappeared.
Mardi Gras is, without a doubt, two of the most super fun weeks in life. Days end at 3 in the afternoon to get home before parade routes close local streets. It’s normal to be offered king cake 8 times in one day, and its normal to accept all 8 times. Weekends start on Thursday and are stacked with parades, sometimes two or three a day, full of 12-foot high-heeled shoe floats and themes like Your Stimulus Package led by “Spanker Banker.” It’s okay to set up lawn chairs in the middle of the street car track and be drunk at 10am.
Mardi Gras is humanity in its most ridiculous glory. Six weeks of indulgence, leading up to the very last day, the very last hour, of unrestrained reckless abandon.
Why? Because midnight starts Lent: a forty-day season of restraint and self-examination in preparation for Easter.
I imagine myself in life, how I must appear to God, like that street. The aftermath of Mardi Gras knocking on the door to church on Wednesday morning. I’m (metaphorically, of course) sloshing beer and dripping gumbo all over the place, dragging a string of broken beads caught on my shoe, dressed in an Oyster outfit, fat off of King Cake, momentarily sidetracked by tiny little ponies and fire blowers. And God opens the door, and I see him, then I see me. Then I see him, then I see me. And I’m like, Maybe I should wash my hands.
The thing is, at 8pm on Mardi Gras night, the police shut down the streets, the French Quarter is emptied and everyone goes home. Street-cleaning crews start rolling, city employees set out on foot with brooms, rakes and blowers to push 100 tons of trash into the streets, the street guys sweep it all up, and dump trucks carry it away- all before midnight on Ash Wednesday. The city must be clean by midnight. While most of us are fast asleep in a drunken haze, smiling and filthy, our city is being renewed. We wake up on Wednesday morning to sparkly clean streets. The mess we made, no longer there.
So. Back to my story. I squinted my eyes and looked around to a totally empty and ghostlike street at dusk. It was trashed. What came to mind was a Mother Teresa quote I’d seen earlier in the day: Love has a hem to her garment that reaches to the very dust. It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes, and because it can, it must.
Because it can, it must.
And then I remembered that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners (while we stood at the door with our gumbo and beer and tiny ponies and fire throwers), Christ died for us.
God loves us. We trash ourselves. Jesus makes us clean.