I decided to take on as my Lenten discipline wearing a head covering in mass. What I need now is someone who can tell me how to keep the stupid thing on.
I realize that wearing a veil in this day and age is just as much an exercise in humility as it is a conscious effort to enter into the holiness of mass by making a conscious effort to dress differently. I did not realize that it would take a degree in materials management, haberdashery and hairdressing to pull it off.
In preparation for this discipline, I ordered a couple of small, round veils, on the theory that they would be less conspicuous than the long, triangular one I already had. I figured I’d ease into this head-covering business slow and easy-like. Heading off for daily mass the day after Ash Wednesday (when I appeared in a watch cap I was wearing against the cold, having forgotten said dinner-plate veil…) I pulled the pretty lace out of my sleeve (having also decided to fast from my purse for the duration of Lent) and tried to tack it to my head with a bobby pin.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. Love the color (first black, now silver), hate the baby-fine, rod-straight texture, which, as it turns out, is completely unsuitable for anchoring bits of lace with anything less than a molly bolt through the skull. I hadn’t even stood up from genuflecting by my seat when it slid off and drifted in a graceful arc toward the pew.
Rescuing the errant bit of cloth—it was making a determined course for the floor beneath the pew in front of me—I plopped it on my head and engaged in one of those posture exercises my third grade teacher was so fond of inflicting. For the record, it’s easier to keep a book balanced on your head than a nine-inch piece of white lace with a ruffle around it, ostensibly for decoration, but really, I think, to improve the acrobatic aerodynamic qualities.
Its next trajectory was off the back of my head. A sliding veil against the back of the neck feels a lot like a bug, and I nearly leapt out of my seat before I realized what was happening, plopped it back on my head, and buried my face in my hand to obscure the red in my cheeks. The lady sitting next to me gave me a sidelong look and slid tactfully away.
As an exercise in humility, it works rather well. I’m now into the second week of doing battle with the lace, and the score stands at Veil 8, Home Team 0. It looks like I am headed for a shut out. I was bemoaning this to the priest this morning at mass, and he grinned. “I can’t help you,” he said. “Never had to deal with that.” And he chuckled.
But he didn’t tease me, and no one else has, either. The only comments I have had have been wistful or positive. One complete stranger asked me if I knew where there would be a Latin mass, figuring, I guess, that anyone who wore a veil would know such things. I’m learning that I worry far too much about what people might think. I’m beginning to realize that they have too much on their minds to think much about me at all—a shock to realize that I operate from such a general base of self-ishness and a great relief to realize that I need not. And through it all, I can image God smiling, at my antics, at my earnestness, and finally, at my insights.
So far, the major one is this: I made things far harder on myself by deciding to take the easy way out in my attempt to honor God and keep a good Lent by consciously using a head covering because I thoguht it would be inconspicuous. The smaller the veil, the harder it is to keep in place, and in a society where few women cover their head, a scrap of lace is more timid than a flamboyant picture hat—but no less obvious. The trials of keeping that chapel cap in place are probably well earned wages of being lukewarm in the discipline.
The more foreign an activity, the odder it feels and the harder it is to pull it off. I’m learning how to do something that was second nature to Catholic women a generation ago, and it’s taking me a while to get the hang of it. A bit like life and a lot like faith. I’ll get there. If nothing else, it’s one of the more entertaining disciplines I have ever taken on, and probably not just for me.
Already, the veil and I are coming to terms. I like the fact that it makes me stop as I am heading into church. I think about the fact that I am consciously separating my day by my attire. I wonder what particular trial that bit of lace is going to provide me this time. I anchor it in place (and say thanks to God for whoever invented bobby pins), and go into mass a little more focused just for the preparation. Not bad for the first week of Lent.