Thursday, July 19, 2012

Am I supposed to comprehend? Because, I don't.

From the space just after sleeping, but before becoming fully awake this this morning, the thought came to me that this mark on my arm is not really a tattoo. I mean, yes, it is - I went to British Ink and Fernando did his artistry - but it's not ornamental, it's not beautiful, I do not find pleasure in looking at it and it's not something I wish the world to see.

I could hear the people who work in the dentist's office upstairs getting ready for their day of work, but somehow I was unable to throw back the covers and rise as I usually do. Not unlike a bird I watched last night outside my window, stunned and muddy after a particularly dramatic thunderstorm, I lay absolutely still, half awake, half asleep, thinking about this mark, this word, shalom, on my arm.

I remembered how, following my first initiation into witchcraft in 1991, I became intrigued with the idea of studying Torah. I bought a very literal translation (whatever that means - it has been translated so many times I doubt seriously any living person actually knows what mysteries lie below the web of bizarre stories that have come down to us). I sat down then and read the whole Torah, cover to cover, in less than a week.

As I read the five books, I became more and more enraged. I mean really, the stories in English are truly creepy. The God I worship is not a murderous, egomaniacal psychopath who chooses a specific tribe to inherit the earth. 

The day I finished reading, I carried the book with me to my job at the bottom of Telegraph Hill where I worked at an architectural firm. I tossed my tribe's holy book of mysteries into a convenient trash can and kept walking without a second look back. Oh man that book made me so angry.

I remember telling my therapist what I had done. Her professionally neutral face turned pale. Apparently there is a protocol for the disposal of well used versions of the Torah that involves praying and burying the stories with love and respect. What I had done was profoundly disrespectful. It was hateful. I have no excuse for how I behaved, except to say I was just plain nuts after the initiation. It's a pathetic justification.

After that I came down with a series of God's-punishment style ailments, such as strange gastrointestinal episodes during which I was in so much pain I nearly went to the ER on several occasions. But then suddenly, within a space of a few minutes, the pain would evaporate. I even developed boils. It was really bad. One day, late for work due to whatever biblical illness I was suffering from, close to where I had tossed the Torah, I stole some guy's parking spot. He came flying out of his car, began hurling all kinds of biblical sounding curses at me, seemingly from out of the nowhere. (True, I stole his parking spot, but the usual response to that is something along the lines of fuck you.)

I don't remember exactly what he said, but he looked as surprised as I did as he issued curse after curse. May your grandchildren be cursed, may your family be cursed, may you writhe in unending pain. Etc. I imagine he went home that night and told his wife that some bitch stole his parking spot, after which he let loose with the ten plagues. It must have been pretty weird for him, too.

It was clear I had to do something, hence I observed Shabbat for a year after that, lighting the candles at sunset every Friday, saying the prayers and spending the holy 24 hours living shalom, the deep peace of a perfect world. I was very formal about it and even did the Havdallah ceremony at the end of the 24 hours.

After a year, I stopped observing the holiday. Don't ask me why. It was really nice, actually.

The memories of that time were clear as a bell in my head as I lay there - stunned - this morning. Only when the thought came to me that this mark is a scar from a wound I sustained in my ongoing battle with my Judaism was I at last able to move, to get up, make coffee and sit down to meditate as I do every morning. The bird I outside my window last night didn't move a muscle for about 20 minutes, then suddenly flew away. I felt like that, rising at last and all at once.

My meditation was unbelievably peaceful this morning. Crazy, that. I would have guessed it would be just the opposite.

After a session with a student this morning, rather than processing the stunned bird, stunned Reya sequence, I decided to opt for stupid entertainment via Netflix on the ipad. I tuned in to a random episode of Criminal Intent that featured a psychopath who tortured and murdered his victims in the same manner as the Nazi doctors who tortured the character's grandfather and father in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.

You can't make this stuff up.



ellen abbott said...

Reya, I don't think you tossing that copy of the torah in the trash was responsible for any of what came after. It's a book of stories. Just because some people venerate it does not endow it with any special juju. would your therapist have been horrified if it had been a book of fairy tales? those stories are ancient and handed down generation to generation. they were important and taught valuable lessons. perhaps it was your therapists reaction and you internalizing it that caused your sub-conscious you to punish yourself. god does not punish people for throwing away a book. not even a murderous, egomaniacal psychopath god who chooses a specific tribe to inherit the earth.

on another note, that's a beautiful picture at the top of the page.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm very superstitious, but do not believe that God would punish me for tossing out the Torah. No - that episode resonated of ancestors, not quite able to release the stories of their lives in Visgordek, the shtetl that was bulldozed after they killed everyone in the volkswagons on August 9, 1941. I know that from the Holocaust Museum library and its excellent records.

Sub-conscious punishment? Probably. But there was a whole lot more going on at that time. Maybe this scar is my way of showing myself I have healed from that experience.

It wasn't about the book, or the God I worship. It was all about me and my love/hate relationship with being Jewish - with a little nudging from the generations of rabbis that preceeded me. Oh yeah.

Reya Mellicker said...

One of my friends said at the time that the Torah is meant to be read over the period of a whole year - NOT in one week. She compared it to starvation followed by binging - too much, too fast.

It's interesting to think about.

When I saw what Criminal Intent was about, I actually laughed out loud. Is there a better way to respond? YOu tell me!

Steve Reed said...

I'm surprised your therapist turned pale. That seems a rather judgmental reaction from a listener who's supposed to maintain a professional demeanor. I suspect you may have seen her reaction through the lens of your own feelings and doubts -- and as Ellen said, your subconscious carried you along from there.

Reya Mellicker said...

Steve, she was a New York Jew. She couldn't help it. And she was correct! It was like those guys burning the Koran - unbelievably disrespectful. I knew it, she knew it.

I believe her honest response was the best possible reaction. She had integrity.

It was such a weird time! But a scar indicates that something has healed. That's a good thing.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm so happy Liza is still at it, doing her great work. I found this podcast interview with her.

My sand tray work was a big part of my work. In fact she got certified via my work (in part).

Steve, listen just for a minute or two, check out her accent. Of course she went pale when I tossed out the Torah!

Steve Reed said...

She does indeed have the accent! :)

Elizabeth said...

A resonant and powerful tale.
I think the biblical plagues were sent from your own mind in an odd sort of way....
This was splendid essay.
As regards the Yahweh of the Torah (or Old Testament),
he really does seem an unpleasant, unloving, paranoid dude --yet out of this sprang the idea of loving one's neighbor as oneself.......go figure.

Books are very powerful symbols of things.
Have a great weekend.

Reya Mellicker said...

Go figure indeed.

Reya Mellicker said...

The plagues were about my battle with myself, but the guy cursing me? That I will never be able to rationally explain!

Angela said...

It`s NOT decent to curse other people`s grandchildren. HE was the one who had a severe problem with not being able to lose.
The older I get, the more I think that religion is overestimated, and spiritualism is the thing that counts. As you say, all these translations, the intentions of the people who WROTE these stories in the first place, how much truth can you expect? What counts is what you personally understand and learn from your life.
I think you did a great job, Reya, I really do.