Sunday, February 04, 2007

Always Do Sober What You Said You'd Do Drunk.

That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

Thank you, Ernest Hemingway.

I'm sitting here at NIH getting my red cell transfusion and realizing that Ernie's admonition applies to illness as well as inebriation.

When I was really sick in December/January and doing all that scary advanced directive stuff, I (I'm not too proud to admit) was bargaining with God like he was selling trinkets at a flea market. You know, the usual stuff you say in some ludicrous belief that God gives such a rat's ass about you taking old clothes to Goodwill that he'd facilitate your recovery so you could go do it:

"If I get to go home, I will never {insert random not-nice thing here} again."
"If you help me get better, I will actually join a temple and formally commit to being part of the community."
"If you give me the strength to get better I will never again claim fatigue or full schedule as a valid reason for not doing something I ought to be doing."

The urge to bargain with God is such a strange phenomenon. Especially when, even as I was in mid-bargain, I knew that this was not how it all works. I knew, even as I was making nonsense vows left and right, that God does not "let" you live because you promise to stop saying "F*ck" so much. God doesn't "let" you die because He wasn't convinced by your vow to help little old ladies across the street more often. We all know it doesn't work like that. And yet, when crisis hits, our (or, at least, my) first urge is to launch into full contractual negotiations with the Supreme Being:

E (hereafter referred to as "the Supplicant") agrees to indemnify and hold harmless God (hereafter referred to as "the Deity") against loss or threatened loss or expense by reason of the liability or potential liability of the Supplicant for or arising out of any claims for damages. The failure by the Deity to require performance of any provision shall not affect the Deity's right to require performance at any time thereafter, nor shall a waiver of any breach or default of this Contract constitute a waiver of any subsequent breach or default or a waiver of the provision itself.

Yes indeed I was bargaining with God like a union shop steward.

I've come to realize lo these past few weeks, however, that the exercise in bargaining is less a conversation with God and more a conversation with ourselves, in which God is the long-suffering friend letting us yammer, or the therapist who is saying, "Hmm. And how do you feel about that situation? Help me understand why you feel it is important." I think it is the human impulse, when disaster strikes, to take stock of our lives to date and determine for ourselves where we feel we could do better. We then turn that into divine negotiations in the wishful-thinking belief that, a la Defending Your Life {Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, 1991), that if only we can prove that we'd do it better next time, we can get another chance to do just that.

So the upside is that I got better and got to go home. The "down"side is that I now have to keep all the promises I made to God (myself?) back in December, and let me tell you, it is a hassle with a capital H. :) I've joined the temple. I've called friends to apologize for previous bad behavior. I've given others forgiveness that I'd been denying them. I've mopped and scrubbed my house (please God, don't let me die and have people think I kept such a nasty-looking house!). I've started behaving and living like what I claimed to believe about God is true, ie, that God is good, that faith is a good thing, that every single one of us--including me, sick or not--is responsible for tikkun olam (repairing the world). It's damn busy days in the aftermath of shooting my mouth off, let me tell you.

I'm just hoping that all of my "feeding the hungry" and "going to temple" activities will sufficiently distract God from the fact that I still say F*ck too much.


Vigilante said...

Or, maybe not enough?

St said...

Seriously, you gotta know He's thowing a few in Himself.