Prayers for the Holidays, 2006
year in the holiday season, when 200 people died in one day in Baghdad,
an old friend of mine was senselessly murdered by a random stranger
who, "quote," was having a bad day (note to self, never
complain to workmen about construction noise), and another friend,
the 37-year-old mother of a 18-month-old boy, was succumbing to
advanced stage breast cancer, it seemed appropriate to announce
that I have kicked a habit. For years I've wrestled with this monkey
on my back. Like a secret drinker, outwardly I've cultivated the
cynical nonchalance of the nonbeliever, but in truth, in a pinch,
for the satisfaction of my own petty and selfish needs, I was addicted
prayed to this God I didn't believe in, to satisfy my personal needs
-- please God, let our old plumbing last another year, let my kid
take a nap, find a good parking space, let my book be in the low
three digits on Amazon today!
this giving up God stuff presented some unlikely complications.
I find myself strangely compelled to honor my mother and father
as I will now be forgoing the annual repentance festival known as
Yom Kippur wherein God forgives all of your transgressions in one
fell swoop. I always loved this holiday because a God who would
deign to forgive everybody, all at once, in one day, well, that's
a God with some largess, a God who lives large, knows how to show
you a good time, it's a forgiveness blow out. It's the Crazy Eddie
sale on "I'm sorry," and at the top of my list was always
-- I'm sorry for the manner in which I have disrespected my parents
since the day of my birth. So for the first time ever, I invited
my parents to town to host them for Thanksgiving. Their primary
interest was to have my son accompany them to restaurants all over
Los Angeles. And bathrooms. I chauffeured them from meal to meal,
and restroom to restroom, from one end of LA to the other. Which
I dutifully did, engaging in only one time honored argument -- do
we really need to stop and have brunch if we've eaten breakfast
and are heading to lunch? For six days I waited on them, making
daily trips to the pharmacy, which my father felt for some reason
the need to announce every day, "Your mother is constipated
and needs to get an enema."
Dad, just say you need to go the pharmacy." But no, despite
my exhortations, every day, more enema talk. The upside? In constant
motion and vaguely nauseated, I lost three pounds over Thanksgiving!
since God seemed to be busy keeping Mitch Albom's books in the low
digits on Amazon, I'm not very flush this year, so in an act of
self-preservation and debt- lowering, I've decided to stop coveting
my neighbor's wife, which I have always interpreted as a prohibition
against envy and over-spending. This has been really hard, as comparing
myself to others is one of my most treasured and costly hobbies,
I've cultivated it in my spare time, and I'm really good at it.
I'm not sure what I will replace this pursuit with yet, so right
now I've taken up more self-loathing as a transitional activity,
and plan to give low cost, but effusive, notes of gratitude to everyone
on my gift list this year.
and it pains me to say, I find myself compelled to adhere to the
precepts of Jesus, namely: do unto others as you would have them
do unto you. Which is enervating!
the Saturday morning of Thanksgiving week, I excused myself from
brunch and was standing in line at my local Cingular wireless store
-- where I was enduring a two hour wait to replace my cell phone
which I had dropped one too many times. Being mobile phoneless had
resulted in my turning into a raving lunatic: trying to find a working
pay phone in 2006 is something akin to the search for the Holy Grail.
Breaking sweat, I had found myself roaming the streets, unmoored,
adrift and unreachable. When it was finally my turn at the counter,
I was angry and indignant, cursing the employees under my breath.
When they told me they couldn't fix my phone, I was positively livid.
in the process of haggling with the salesperson when I was stopped
in my tracks by the person next to me.
man, really a teenager, said he was leaving for duty in Iraq and
wanted to know if he could keep his phone number on hold during
the months of his tour. He was told no, they didn't have a policy
that would let him do that. He could put a hold on his account,
but his number would change. "Are you sure?" he asked.
The salesperson went to check with the manager in the back, returned,
and stated in order to do this, he would have to give them 180 days
notice. He looked crushed so I said, "I'll pay for his phone."
The idea that a teenager would serve his country and come back (hopefully)
without his same phone number seemed like too much to ask from a
volunteer. He said his name was Randy, I didn't ask his last name
because I knew I'd be checking lists of deceased soldiers if I did,
and I didn't tell him my whole name because in the Torah, which
I now don't believe in, it says the highest form of giving is to
give anonymously and I didn't want him to feel indebted to me. I
shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and wished him well.
called the Cingular company; it took an hour of waiting on the line
to find out they actually do have a policy, but I guess no one bothered
to tell their store employees.
I can't be sure that if I hadn't given up God I wouldn't have done
the same things. But in a country where we can't make certain that
Randy can get phone calls from his friends telling him to meet them
at the mall so they can get drunk in the parking lot, after he's
risked his life for us, well, I had to step up in this most miniscule
of ways because I wasn't sure God would be looking out for him.
Monday after Thanksgiving my parents left town, and my friend with
cancer died that day. On her deathbed, her mother said, "You're
going to live on through Jesus."
amongst her last words, she replied, "That's bullshit, I want
my own life."
next day I woke up exhausted. Relived that my parents had departed,
angry that my friend had left this world, resigned that I didn't
have enough money to help every Randy, I stumbled downstairs to
make my coffee and get my kid ready for school. Even though I didn't
have a God to look after me, I was alive and I had a cell phone
that worked, and that, at least, was something to be grateful for.
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