God In Remix

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Recently I wrote a post called God On Trial. I’m glad I wrote it, but the more I think about it, it’s not enough. Yes, it addresses the ‘Is there a God?’ question, in its own way, but if we’re going to ‘concede’ that there is, indeed, a God (or god, or all-encompassing-Is-ness, or any other omnipresent providential Dude you can dream up), it still leaves us with a bigger problem: dang, if there is a God, why the effin’ bleep is the world so effin’ bleeped up?

Or, put another way: is God also in the shite, and if so, how can I find Him there?

If God is love, how can we ‘God’ (i.e. love) a world that prominently features ugliness, sadism, oppression, the triumph of evil, and good people going down in flames?

Sure, God is clearly ‘there’ in the smell of rain, or the changing of the seasons, or the glint in a child’s eye, but where is the God in child abuse, or the torture of prisoners, or religion-based genocide? Let’s say a woman is born, lives, and dies doing unending menial work under a regime that is hideously restrictive of women’s rights, and condones mass murder: was her life ‘touched by God’ in the same way as that of a woman who was privileged to have the support to discover her innermost dreams, and then fulfill them?

At first blush, it seems impossible to believe that such an unfair, chaotic and dangerous world was created (or is inhabited) by any but the most capriciously-whimful, crazy-ass being imaginable.

Yes, I understand, it’s possible to embrace a belief system that preaches,

Look, guys, just because we don’t understand the Ways of God, that doesn’t mean They’re not there.

Fair enough – and maybe it’s true: after all, what Is . . . Is, right? So, if we’re going to go on the assumption that a God made (and inhabits) this whole mess (sorry, Dude), and we cannot for the life of us understand how or why He could have included the evil parts, then it must be that we just can’t understand God, right? Kind of like how a child looks at the behavior of his parents, even if said behavior is abusive or mean or crazy: they’re the parents, ergo they Must know what they’re doing. (And, sadly, this often necessitates the child then ‘making it alright’ by assuming he must be ‘worthy’ of the abuse.)

Well, I understand, and even respect such a point of view: Since it (i.e. the world, in all its inglory) is there, then God, in His infinite wisdom, must have a reason for it all.

Cool – knock yourself out, but I just can’t buy it. Yes, I understand that we can hypothesize that the ‘bad parts’ are put there (by God, presumably) in order for us to learn the lessons of love – and yes, that gets me a little closer to acceptance of the God concept; after all, a therapist is always a sucker for almost anything that involves the holy grail: Personal Growth (Sing Hallelujah!).

So there I was, stuck with this:

Yes, there is a God – but only in the ‘Good Stuff.’

Then there’s all that Bad Stuff floating around: Godless and unaccounted-for.

Hmm, what’s a fella to do?

The first part of the answer came when sitting with a patient recently. She said, “I want to be closer to you – I want to be merged with you. I want you to just understand what I’m thinking, without my having to say anything.” This is a pretty frequent phenomenon in therapy, especially with someone who feels validated and ‘held’ by a strong connection with the other person.

I was quiet, sitting in silent understanding, and witnessing, of her wish.

Then she said, “I feel like I’m going into a space.” Patients will often shift ground in this way – transcending, for a moment or more, their own personal identity and entering a more expansive area, what would be called ‘oneness’ in meditation practice – boundarylessness.

I waited quietly.

I noticed a beatific glow on her face, and she said, “You’re in the space, too – everyone is.”

I waited quietly.

Then she paused, almost laughing, and added, “We’re together, after all.”

Patients often go into these expanded-identity ‘spaces’ during session, because therapy can be a spiritual practice, a form of assisted meditation. And once you leave your small, personal identity, you see that we are all, indeed, ‘together,’ as beings sharing existence, and even beyond that, we are all ‘star-dust,’ in unity with all that is.

So, I had all this roiling around in my mind, as I looked out my window at the clouds, after her session ended: the yearning for Connection, the search for Unity, the need for shelter from the storm. I thought about how lost we feel in such an enormous world, yet how at home we could be, if we could live from a ‘space’ such as my patient had entered – all One, all In It Together. But I also thought about the pain, the hurt, the meanness, the seeming unfairness, of the world. I thought about how we don’t treat each other ‘right’ – heck, we don’t even treat the Earth right, pillaging her treasures, paving her soil over with concrete and asphalt, mowing down entire forests like we cut the lawn.

For a sad moment, I felt protective of the Earth – almost like it was . . .

And then it came over me: an answer, a way, maybe. Yes, I understand, and accept, that God is love. Yes, I see God in the wonderful things of the world, but can’t accept, can’t love, the Bad things, too – at least not in the same way.

But wait: what if I thought about the world as my child? It occurred to me that I have no problem loving my children, even though there are ‘bad’, disappointing, and frustrating things about them. Even though they have hurt me, thwarted my plans for them, and let me down at times. Sure, I’m mad, hurt, even hateful at times, but it always comes back to love. I see that they are imperfect, that they hurt others, too, not just me – but always, always, it comes back to love and acceptance. Why – just because they’re ‘mine’? No, I don’t think so – it’s not, “Since they’re mine, they’re perfect,” it’s more like, “I am committed to being big enough to love them through it all,” which means through the hurts and disappointments, as well as the joys and the triumphs. My love doesn’t ‘go away’ just because I’m mad. Sure, I might feel rejecting, or need to take some space and time to recuperate from an incident, but I come back – I make sure I come back, not matter what it takes.

Hmmm – so if I “have it in me” to do this with my children, and other loved ones, why can’t I do the same thing with the whole world? Hey – this could work!

I looked out the window at the same clouds I had been watching before, and said, “God damn it – I love you guys.” I’m not sure, but I might have seen them give a little squiggle in return.

I looked at a winter-bare tree I had seen a hundred times before, and said, “Hey kiddo – welcome to the family!”

I watched a single bird flying by, and called out, “Keep truckin’, little buddy!”

It felt good – like my patient said, we’re all in the same space now.

I realized that I’m a ‘better’ person when I’m a parent than I am as the man in the street: aren’t we all?

Now came the hard part: I picked up the newspaper and forced my eyes to a story about Muslim terrorists – stuff I would normally avoid like the plague. I took a deep breath and pictured talking to them:

“You know, I don’t like what you did, but . . .”

But what? Where do I go from here? I forced my mind back – and I do mean forced:

” . . . but you’re still my children, and I have to find a way to love you through it. It doesn’t make it right – you did wrong and I have to hold you responsible for that – but . . .”

Whoo – this was hard! I took a breather. Okay, back to the salt mines:

” . . . but it doesn’t mean I stop caring about you, or seeing you as fellow beings. After all, if I was you, with the whole package deal of your DNA, your cultural experiences, and your upbringing, I’d be you. I don’t have to like you at this moment- just like I wouldn’t like my child if he committed a murder – but I wouldn’t abandon him, and I won’t abandon you, either, at least in spirit.”

Whew – that was rough. It felt a little weird trying this new ‘suit’ on for size, and I felt a little like I was abandoning myself, and my values, but in another sense, I knew I was being more true to my larger values, than I had ever been, pushing myself to a larger place than I had ever been – kind of like a snake, moulting out of an old skin and into a larger one.

I know that it’s going to be hard – new ways always are. And I know it’s going to keep feeling weird to not ‘take sides’ the way I always have – but then I still have the right to my beliefs. I haven’t abandoned them – just found a higher-level way to exercise them. I’ve always envied people who can have spirited debates with others about deeply-held beliefs – like about right and wrong – and emerge from the debate laughing and still friends – maybe even better friends. Isn’t that what I’m doing with the whole world now?

Now I understand, a little better, the meaning of Robert Frost’s famous quote:

And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Now I see the crux of that quote more clearly: “lover’s” and “quarrel,” both together, in the same space. We disagree – maybe strongly – but I still love you.

And that’s exactly my challenge, now: to do that with the whole world. To love ‘my’ world – my beloved world: the clouds outside my window, my friend the tree, that bird flying solo, and also the Muslim terrorists.

Not agree – just love.

Not like – just love.

Not side with – just love.

Not side against – just love.

Not tough love – just loving tough, loving hard, loving like a crazy-ass son of a bitch.

Loving like God.

 

 

Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.

God On Trial

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Recently a friend told me about a blog by a Methodist pastor, called Unfolding Light. I read it, and loved it. Here is an example:

 

Coin

You are not some little cent
that God has buried in the earth
to save in fear or greed.
You are a coin of greatest worth
that God has spent in joy
for those in need,
that God, delighted, gave
to someone dear,
or lent and lends again
at no interest, freely,
sent into the great economy of love.

I wonder now:

how will God

spend you

today?

 

It’s great – but, ya know . . .

So what is the ‘but, ya know,’ you say? Well, er . . . if you, ya know – must know, it’s The God Thing.

Yeah, I know – this comes up all the time with people I send to A.A., or N.A., or M.A., or O.A, or Any A. They go to a meeting, and seem to like it. And then here it comes:

Patient: Well, there was just that one thing.

Me: And what was that one thing?

Patient: Well . . . The God Thing.

Of course, I know what to answer. I say, “You don’t have to believe in God, per se, to use the Anonymous programs – they just mean ‘God, as you experience Him, Her, or It.'”

And this seems to work for most people – that is. If they’re actually ready to do something about their drinking, or smoking, or drugging, or eating, they get over ‘The God Thing’ and use the program, meet the people, and eventually realize that their Higher Power can be whatever they want it to be, or whatever comes to them, or even their own ‘higher self’ – it all works just fine. And most of those who quit because of ‘The God Thing’ are using it as an excuse to cut and run instead of digging in and using the program and the people who, after all, are there to help them, not proselytize them.

So, I’m no virgin at the God game, is what I’m saying. I get it: God can be anything, from a belief in yourself, to Nature, to a stuffed Teddy bear you call Uncle Amos, to J.D. Salinger, I guess, if he rings your chimes.

That’s the fun part of a Customized Life, as I call it with my patients:

You Get To Make It Up!

It’s kind of like a psychology continuing education course I once took, where the guy said it is crucially important to keep ‘progress notes’ on all your sessions, and to designate a proper diagnosis – meaning, that is, from the DSM (all hail!).

But then he added something, sotto voce, that I never forgot. He said, “Well, I suppose it doesn’t have to be the DSM: technically, you could make up your own diagnostic system, as long as you defined your terms, and used them consistently.” I think it was kind of a throwaway line for him, but of course, for me it became the most memorable thing he said that day. I went home and thought about it – a lot. And I thought, talking to myself (as is my wont), “Okay, Self, so you dislike the DSM and the whole diagnostic system. So noted, hotshot. So, if you don’t use that, what would you suggest in its place?”

The disavowal part (that is, disavowing the DSM) is easy. The replacement part – not so much. Hell, what would I say, in a progress note, to designate “what is wrong” with the people I see, that would have any descriptive value to anyone reading my notes, say a thousand years from now, when a future psycho-archaeologist might spend years deciphering them (my handwriting, you understand), in order to publish his masterpiece:

Great Psychotherapy Progress Notes of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Well, that’s as far as I got with my own diagnostic system, but it’s still good to know I could make it up, if I really wanted to – my teacher said so!

But back to God. How do we resolve The God Thing? Is there a God, or isn’t there a God, for God’s sake?  How do we answer this? Well, even though I failed at the New Diagnostic System, I think I’ve succeeded at this. I thought and thought, and here’s what I finally came up with – exclusive to my readers, I might add.

Perhaps we could put God to the ultimate test:

The Courtroom.

Just for you, Constant Reader, I pulled some strings and got the State of California to let us use a spare courtroom that was lying around, and even loan us a State’s Attorney! (A good one, too – I checked).

So now, to set the stage, let’s imagine that God has come under fire from a legal entity – say, oh, The People of the State of California. The charges are grave. He stands accused of running a hustle, being a fraud, soul-molestation, and impersonating a Being, while not actually being a Being (though, of course, to his believers, he is Being itself, but if he’s declared Null and Void in a court of law, they may have to get along on their own, or get a writ of Habeas Deus, or something.

The scene:

A Fall day like today, blustery, windy and cool. One might almost say ‘foreboding,’ if one had a dark, romantic turn of mind.

It was foreboding.

The immediate setting:

A huge, impressive State of California courtroom, in Sacramento, maybe. No, make that Oakland – I don’t want to have to drive that far. We enter the room and gasp as we take in the impressiveness, the gravity of it all: the high ceilings, framed in rich, old woodwork, the plush drapes covering high, deep-set windows, that might even be mullioned, if I knew what mullioned meant: ah hell, let’s go ahead and make ’em mullioned.

We take our seats, quietly – in the back, of course, with the other commoners. The rich, the powerful, and the working press take up the front three-quarters of the public space. This is big stuff, and everyone knows it. Entire ways of life depend on the outcome of this thing, and everyone wants in on it. Tomorrow, they will be calling it History.

Quiet! It’s starting:

All rise for the Honorable Wisdom Elbert Smith!

We rise as one, and see the Judge stride in, his robes flowing: tall and stalwart he is, maybe a shade over seventy, with the wavy, white hair of experience and a deeply-lined face that is not so much handsome, as . . . Eternal.

To one side sit the twelve ladies and gentlemen in whose judgment the fate of the universe is entrusted this day: The Jury. They are mostly well-dressed, though the random tattoo does peek through here and there. But all in all, a straightforward-enough-looking lot.

Suddenly, The Bailiff intones, in a voice as frighteningly devoid of emotion as a death knell:

Case of The People of California versus the Alleged God.

There is an audible gasp at the one word, ‘alleged’: a civilization on trial!

Formalities are attended to, the introduction of the ‘sides’:

For the People of the State of California – The Prosecution: Filbrick C. Filbrick, State’s Attorney.

For the Defense: Liam X. O’Flaherty.

O’Flaherty, you say? Whew, and a good Catholic lad he is, as is only right. They say as a young man he struck for the priesthood, but Harvard lured him and his brilliance away with promises of a free ride and a top o’ the line education – doing God’s own work in the lay world, don’tcha know?

Ready on the left, ready on the right, ready on the firing line! The crowd buzzes expectantly. We’re to witness history today, and no mistake. Shhhh! The Judge is speaking!

Judge Smith: Mr. O’Flaherty, are you ready for the Defense?

Mr. O’Flaherty: I am, Your Honor.

Judge: You may begin.

Mr. O’Flaherty: I would like to begin by introducing into evidence Defense Exhibit One, otherwise known as Avalon, by Jim Hession.

Judge: (Cupping an ear – rather endearingly, I might add) What – Avalon, you say?

Mr. O’Flaherty: That is correct, Your Honor. (Motions grandly to the back) If the Sergeant At Arms will dim the lights, I believe we are ready to present our first exhibit.

The lights dim. No one drops a pin, but if they had . . .

Mr. O’Flaherty: Roll ’em!

 

The lights go back up. Appreciative murmurs roll through the audience. Several jurors are seen to nod enthusiastically, but with a warning glare from the Judge, they belay that jazz, but quick.

Fillbrick (For the Prosecution): But surely, it must be obvious to all that this only proves that the gentleman is a fine piano player.

O’Flaherty (For the Defense): Tut tut – come now, sir! Surely, it must be apparent even to you that his powers are something more than human!

(Enthusiastic murmuring from the crowd.)

Filbrick: Objection! Calls for speculation on the part of the State – which is me. I stipulate to no such thing.

Judge: Overruled! In the considered opinion of this Court, it is not speculation that his playing is more than human – it is an observed fact.

Filbrick: But, Your Honor…

Judge: (Banging gavel) I said Overruled, Mr Prosecutor! Any more outbursts like that and I’ll have you up for contempt of court.

Filbrick: Yes, Your Honor.

Judge: Now, Mr. Defender, do you have any other exihibits you wish to put into evidence?

O’Flaherty: Yes, Your Honor. Take a gander at this . . .

Judge: Mr. O’Flaherty, you will watch your language in this honored chamber!

O’Flaherty: Sorry, Your honor. If you will be so kind as to watch the following, I think it will lay to rest all possible objections to the Higher Power argument.

Filbrick: Objection! Leading the courtroom!

Judge: Sustained. Mr. O’Flaherty, you will confine yourself to legalistic jargon, and desist from the use of all leading commentary. (Whispered aside) And I hope this next one’s as good as Avalon.

Filbrick: Objection! The Judge has clearly been swayed by Avalon, and is now openly siding with the Defense!

Judge: (Visibly upset) Objection overruled! How dare you imply that I am anything less than utterly objective, Mr. Filbrick! I warn you, sir, you are treading on thin ice!

Filbrick: Sorry, Your Honor – I’ll try to skate next time.

Judge: (Banging gavel) Bailiff – remove Mr. Filbrick from the courtroom, if you please!

Filbrick: But Your Honor, I beseech you . . .

Judge Smith: Alright, Mr. Prosecutor, you may stay, but I warn you – any further exclamations directed at The Bench will be dealt with harshly. The jury is directed to disregard that outburst against Your Honor – oh, that’s me.

Jury: (Rising as one) That’s You!!

Judge: (Beaming) Mr. O’Flaherty, next exhibit, if you please.

O’Flaherty: Your Honor, we have found an exhibit that goes beyond . . . well, beyond exhibition. This one will knock your socks off.

Filbrick: Objection! That requires supposition as to Your Honor’s state of sockery!

Judge: Objection sustained. There will be no more mention of said sockery in this chamber. The jury will disregard socks of any stripe.

Jury: (Rising as one) So disregarded!

Judge: Mr. Defender, you may proceed

O’Flaherty: The Defense wishes to present Exhibit Two: Rhapsody in Blue.

Court Reporter: Excuse me – was that ‘blue’, or ‘bloom’?

O’Flaherty: Blue, as in Rhapsody in . . .

Judge: The Court Reporter will refrain from needless interjections.

Court Reporter: Making it so, Your Honor.

O’Flaherty: (Gesturing to the rear) May we have the house lights dimmed, Sergeant At Arms?

Sergeant At Arms: Dimming!

O’Flaherty: Aaaaand – Action!

 

 

 

 

The entire courtroom, and the Jury, rise in a deafening and prolonged standing ovation.

Judge Smith: (Banging gavel repeatedly) The onlookers will cease and desist from this outrageous behavior! And if there are any more such demonstrations, the courtroom will be cleared.

Onlookers: (Rising as one) Sorry, Smitty!

Judge Smith: As well you should be. And Jury, you will be seated, and stay that way!

Jury: (Sitting as one) Indeed!

Judge: (Turning to O’Flaherty) You may proceed with the Defense.

O’Flaherty: (To Jury, enthusiastically) So, how did Rhapsody In Blue strike ya, boys and girls?!!

Filbrick: Objection!! I call Jury Inflammation!

Judge: Sustained! The Jury will resist inflammation, and strike, ‘How does that strike you’!

Jury: (Rising as one) So stricken!

Judge: I told you to remain seated!

Jury: (Sitting as one) Remaining seated!

Filbrick: (Emboldened by his minor victory) Furthermore, I want it on the record that there is some question as to the divinity of this piece as well. And to this end, the prosecution calls Dr. Rudenheimer Schtrechenbaugh to the stand.

Bailiff: Call Dr. Rudenheimer Schtrechenbaugh!!!

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: (Rushes up the aisle, looking suspiciously like Groucho Marx, in academic cap and robes) I’m here! I’m here, already!

The witness is sworn in.

Judge: Dr. Schtrechenbaugh, I am going to have to ask you to divest yourself of your cap and robes at once. Only I am permitted to wear impressive robes in this courtroom!

Dr. Schtechenbaugh: But they are my academic regalia! What is an academic without his regalia?

Judge: Bailiff, divest the doctor at once!

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Okay, okay – I’ll divest myself forthwith (taking off his robes, revealing a camouflage t-shirt and holey jeans underneath). I only wanted to make a good impression.

Judge: Let your testimony be your impression. (Pause) Hey, I like that one: Court Reporter, make sure that one gets in there! Read back the record, please, so we can all hear it.

Court Reporter: (Paging back hurriedly) Hmm, let’s see: “Let your testimony be your impression.”

Onlookers: General applause.

Judge: (Nodding to crowd) Excellent, excellent. Your witness, Mr. Prosecutor.

Filbrick: Now, doctor – would you please inform the Judge and Jury what you are a doctor of – even without your regalia, that is?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Well, my regalia covers a number of fields . . .

Judge: You will confine yourself to the field at hand.

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Oh well, then, I have a doctorship in Music Criticism.

Filbrick: For the benefit of the Jury, would you please tell us – in lay language, that is – what that entitles you to do?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: It entitles me to say bad things about almost any piece of music.

O’Flaherty: Objection!

Judge: And what is the basis of your objection?

O’Flaherty: I don’t know – it just seems pretty negative to me.

Judge: (Sighs) As I’m sure you know, Mr. O’Flaherty, your personal feelings are not admissible here. If you would put your objection in the form of a question to Dr. Schtrechenbaugh, perhaps you might get somewhere with it.

O’Flaherty: Dr. Schtrechenbaugh, you have stated that you have the right, and training, to say bad things about any piece of music. But what about saying good things about a piece of music?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Oh, that would be a doctorship in Music Praise: I never got that one.

O’Flaherty: And why is that?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: It wasn’t offered in the Fall term. Besides, I was working full-time at Macy’s by then.

O’Flaherty: With a doctorate?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: No, Macy’s doesn’t require a doctorate to sell appliances – or at least they did not at that time.

O’Flaherty: But why were you working at Macy’s when you had a doctorate?

Dr Schtrechenbaugh: I didn’t say I had a job as a doctor: only that I had a doctorate.

Filbrick: Objection! This is making me look bad!

Judge: Sustained – it certainly is doing that. (Pause) You may continue.

Filbrick: Who – me?

Judge: (Sighs) Yes, you, Mr. Prosecutor: You’re the one who called this refrigerator salesman, are you not?

Filbrick: Um, yes, well, Dr. Schtrechenbaugh, please tell us, in your own words, why you feel Rhapsody in Blue is not proof of divinity?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: You mean God?

Filbrick: Uh, yes, Doctor – that means God.

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Well, there are a number of items in this composition that point to a consistent pattern of humanness. For one, there is that first part – you know, where the clarinet player goes waaaay, waaay up . . .

Judge: You refer to the opening glissando?

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: Glissando, schmissando – I’m talking about the part where he goes way the hell up, like he’s completely out of control. You don’t start a song like that: everyone knows you start quiet, and then you build up as you go along. You don’t start way high; you start way low, and build up to way high at the end. God would never do it like that. God’s smart: the guy who wrote this shit is dumb – see?

Onlookers: “Fraud!” “Idiot!” “Give ‘im the hook!”

Judge: (Banging gavel, repeatedly) Order in the court!

O’Flaherty: Your Honor, I move that the witness be stricken, and then removed.

Judge: Bailiff, strike the witness!

Bailiff: (Delivering a couple of good whacks around the face area) So stricken!

Judge: Now grab those ridiculous robes and get this man out of here!

Dr. Schtrechenbaugh: It’s okay – I was on my lunch break anyway.

(Bailiff grabs the robes and hustles the witness down the aisle and out of the courtroom.)

O’Flaherty: In the light of the witness’s utter disregard for reality, I move that Rhapsody in Blue be declared a work of divinity by acclamation!

Jury (Rising as one): So acclaimed!

Judge: (To Jury) You take that back! You have no right to stand, or go around acclaiming anything without my permission!

Jury (Sitting as one) Taking back acclamation, Your Honor!

Judge: Okay, you may now rise and acclaim.

Jury (Rising as one) So acclaimed!

Courtroom explodes in spontaneous cheering.

Judge: (Banging gavel) What did I just tell you people?

Crowd (Sitting down and shutting up, as one): To sit down and shut up!

Judge: Thank you. Are there any further exhibits at this time?

Def: There is one final exhibit for the defense, if it please the Court.

Judge: It do – er, it does.

Def: Then, I introduce Defense Exhibit Three: Nessun Dorma.

Judge: Court reporter, as you getting this?

Court Reporter: I got it phonetically, Your Honor, but it might be a foreign language. And you can’t expect me to . . .

Judge: That’s alright, Court Reporter – I am willing to stipulate that you can’t be expected to know a bunch of foreign crap. If you’ve got it phonetically, we can go back later and get the correct spelling from the counsel for the Defense – if he knows it, that is.

Court Reporter: Thank you: that helps.

Judge: And now, counsel for the Defense, are you prepared with the exhibit?

O’Flaherty: I am, Your Honor. (Gestures to Sergeant At Arms) Sarge, let ‘er rip!

 

Spontaneous, thunderous cheering throughout the courtroom.

Judge: (Smiling, while banging gavel down repeatedly) Now see here, people. We still have a case to try!

Bailiff: Order in the court! Order in the court!

The bedlam continues unabated: “Bravo!” “Bravissimo!” “Bravioli!!”

O’Flaherty: (Shouting above the crowd) I hereby move that the case against God be dismissed, forthwith!

Crowd: Forthwith! Forthwith!

Judge: (Banging gavel) Mr. Prosecutor, what say you?

Filbrick: (Shrugging helplessly in the face of the continuing clamor) So stipulated.

Crowd: So stipulated! So stipulated!

Jury: (Rising as one) Amen!

Judge: (To Jury) Get back down there!

Jury: (Sitting as one) Getting back down there!

Judge: Okay – you may now rise.

Judge, Jury and Crowd: (Rising as one)

Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.

Please Remember Me

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Today, I heard another one of those “Where have you been all my life?” songs on the radio. I tracked it down and found it’s called Dante’s Prayer, by Loreena McKennitt, who has apparently been around forever, with me being shamefully ignorant of her amazing voice, her soul and her talent. So, now that I know, I want you to, too. I know it’s annoying when you’re trying to skim along through someone’s writing (mine, in this case), and they (me, in this case) insist you stop and do something, but this gal has major soul, and I really encourage you to follow the link below and actually listen to the song first before going on. Furthermore, listening to the song will be good ‘practice’ for you, in slowing down and actually being PRESENT for a few moments. Being where you are, when you are: what a concept! (Aren’t therapists obnoxious?) Okay, so here is the link, and I’ll see you on the other side.

{{This space reserved for you, the beautiful, conscious and conscientious reader, to slow down and make room for what Ms. McKennitt went to all that trouble to do for you.}}

This song was apparently inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which McKennitt was reading while on the Trans-Siberian Railroad (yeah, I’m a regular passenger on it, too – I just don’t brag about it. Not!). While it’s above my pay grade to do an in-depth exegesis of how the song relates to The Divine Comedy, I fortunately found a personal story that somebody posted about attending a concert by McKennitt that will do just as nicely. Apparently she told this story at the concert, by way of introduction to the song. While transiting Siberia, the train stopped regularly so the passengers could get out and purchase food from local vendors along the line, the train not having a dining car or food service available. They had exactly twenty minutes to get their food and get back on the train. There was an attendant on the train who looked particularly glum throughout the day, as the train stopped, and passengers got off and did their thing, then back on. At first, McKennitt assumed that maybe her demeanor was just a reflection of Russian culture.

But one time, as McKennitt got back on the train and saw the attendant, she gave the glum lady some of the food she had bought, and was rewarded with a sudden smile of surprise and gratitude. Loreena wondered if anyone else had ever taken the time and care to consider the woman, as she traveled back and forth across the vastness of Siberia, mile after mile, year after year. McKennitt was struck by the smile, and hoped that during the woman’s dark moments, she would stop to remember McKennitt’s act of kindness, and it would return the smile to her face. And in that moment of connection, the song was born, and the plaintive refrain, Please remember me.

And, in your dark moments, whom do you ‘remember’? And do you ever wonder who remembers you? As a therapist, I get to hear the real story (not the one for public consumption) about who really mattered, who made a difference, in the lives of my patients. And some of the answers would surprise friends and family members: a remembered pat on the butt from a coach, a nod from a teacher, a fishing lesson from a neighbor man, a kind act by a stranger, can literally make the difference between life and death. And sometimes I even get unexpected ‘appreciations’ of me that are kind of stunning in their way. For instance, one day a young man I had worked with for years, and had never particularly voiced his feelings about me, suddenly said,

Gregg, I’m going to see you till you die, and after you die, I’m going to find a medium who can contact you, and then I’m going to see you through her, for as long as I can. 

No, I don’t intend to see him till I die, and no, he doesn’t literally mean that – he’s just expressing a feeling – but how many people are able to do work where they get to hear something so moving and beautiful, to have the gift of working with people at that depth, to be a team with someone who would say that to them? I mean, “How sweet it is” to work with people, walk beside them, and believe in them.

But back to Please Remember Me: I know the song stayed with me, because a couple of days after hearing it, I was taking a walk with my ear buds in my ears, trudging blithely along, and a song by Van Morrison came on: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? Suddenly, it all came together and hit me like a ton of bricks: I should be saying ‘I love you’ to God, or whatever force made us all, who has given me, and all of us, so very much. I actually teared up, right there on the street, and felt ashamed for having taken so much for granted, without giving any thanks in return. I tilted my head up (He is ‘up’, right?) and said,

 Oh my God (like, literally – not OMG!) – I haven’t even spoken to you for months, maybe years – I’m so sorry and ashamed for having ignored and neglected you, and taken you for granted. Thank you so, so much for all you have given me – and all of us. I promise not to forget that fact, and you, for so long again. I love you.

And I wondered how many times, how many years of my life, have gone by with my not even thinking to give thanks and appreciation, to the Creator, to Creation, to Life, for everything. All the times I partook of glory, both the little and the big, but didn’t give back: a beautiful song, a sunset, the rain (my all-time favorite weather), people that do and say amazing, surprising things, the people I love and who love me. How many times did I take these things for granted, instead of stopping and letting them sink in, good and proper, then offering my thanks for all that is given?

Well, back to my walk. I thought my ‘prayer’ (or whatever you want to call it) was over, but I discovered it wasn’t. I went on, addressing Whoever’s In Charge:

And now that I actually think of it, I also wanted to say thank you for ‘letting it go’ that I never gave you back even a word of thanks, and for understanding, for being patient, and for not making a ‘big thing’ of it, even though, now that I give it a second’s notice, it IS a big thing. So thank you for that, too.

Oh, I know there are infinite ways to give thanks to you, and I guess my way has been trying to be a good person, mostly – busting my ass to be the good parent I never had, to be a good husband, a good friend, and a good therapist to my patients. But now, somehow, those don’t seem enough – like they are just the regular ways of being, stuff we all do routinely, and damn, you must have noticed all along that I was skating.

Well for what it’s worth, I’m going to try to make a habit of noticing and giving thanks to you whenever I can – no, not going to church or tithing or reading the Bible – those are all fine, but they’re not for me, and I know you know that, so you’ll understand I have to do it my way. I’m no Holy Joe, god knows, but then I’m no heathen, either – just an oddball who can feel things deeply without all the window dressing of choirs and sermons and stained glass. For me, it’s enough that when I say I’ll try, you know I ‘mean it’, because you know All.

And I’ll also work on not hating you anymore for taking away my son, which I still maintain is one of your all-time screw-ups, and no, I’m not one of those Pollyannas who says “God works in mysterious ways” and lets it go; nope, I don’t let it go that you did that – not to me, but to Brett (my son), of all people – the most joyous person I ever met. You were wrong there – real wrong.

I remember very well when I saw the movie Open Range, there was a scene where the ‘bad guys’ kill Mose, one of Robert Duvall’s cowboy traveling partners, a very lovable guy, who was ‘family’ to Duvall, and kill their trail dog, too, whom they all loved dearly. After the gravesite is prepared, and both are in the ground, it’s time for someone to speak over the grave. Duvall’s second-in-command says to him, “You wanna say some words?” (i.e., as boss of the outfit). Surprisingly, Duvall says, “You wanna speak to the Man Upstairs, go on and do it – I’ll stand right here and listen, hat in hand. But I ain’t talkin’ to that son of a bitch. And I’ll be holdin’ a grudge to Him for lettin’ this befall a sweet kid like Mose.”

Well, God, since this was the first movie I had seen since the death of my son, that scene hit me like an atomic blast, and to say I ‘understood’ would be small potatoes indeed: I more than understood – I’d LIVED it, and that is exactly the way I felt about You, God – or Allah, or Yahweh, or whatever you’re calling yourself this year. I hated you, and I wasn’t nice about it either.

So, God, if that’s way off base to you, I am sorry about that, but I can’t be honest with you and not tell you about it: I guess that’s about the closest I can come to ‘confession’, but then as a lapsed half-Jew, maybe I get a pass on that one too. 

But you do so much more than kill people: for example, you were the one who gave Brett life – so how can I hate someone who gave me my son, even though he took him away? Sure, that is ‘mysterious’, and even a little crazy-making, as we say in the psychology racket (but of course you know that, having created everything, including the psychology racket). So maybe when you screw up (like killing Brett), you’re trying to teach us acceptance, and forgiveness, and big-heartedness, by us having to learn to forgive you, to notice, and admit, that you do so many wonderful things that aren’t screw-ups: could it be that you do these things on purpose, to give us a chance to learn, and expand our hearts? I don’t know – I suppose people who study the Bible or the Koran or the Upanishads have already thought up this concept and talked it to death, but for me, it’s the first time it’s occurred to me, so there’s a minor miracle for ya, that, maybe, I finally gave back to you, after you handed me so many miracles over the years, including the years themselves. And, if you didn’t do it on purpose to teach me forgiveness and acceptance – why, I’m just going to go ahead and use it that way, anyway: so there!

Again, sorry if I’m insulting you – or confusing you. Well, as Doyle Lonnegan said in The Sting, “Ya folla?”

Ah hell, I know you do. (sorry about the ‘hell’)

Oh boy – I can see you sitting up there saying “God damn – that guy can talk”, and you’d be right. I know that, in the Bible somewhere, you said, “Be still, and know that I am God,” so I am actually going to shut up now and just say,

Thank you. Thanks for sending me Please Remember Me, and that Van Morrison song, too – sorry it took me two tries to get it. So, even though I reserve the right to hate your guts sometimes, for you-know-damn-well-what (you’re just gonna have to work with me on that one), I want to stop right now and say, I’ll remember You.

Thank You, from the bottom of my heart, and I’ll be back – often.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.