It’s another week with my shrink. I hope I don’t make her cry this time. I have that effect on some people.
So settling in on her couch, I begin. “My mother won’t stop sending me chain mail. I told her, ‘Mom, don’t send me chain mail! I never, ever…EVER…forward it to anyone.’”
“You seem overly annoyed about this,” responds my lady psychologist, note pad in hand.
“I AM annoyed. But THIS chain message…this one I needed to read. And when I did, I shook my head and thought, if it were just that easy…send this on and I’ll never have to worry again. I don’t believe in these things. It’s all superstition or proselytizing. Still, it’s no coincidence that I got this message, ‘cause boy, have I been worrying.”
“You know.” I sigh. “The usual…having enough of everything to survive. Or losing what I have. I go through stretches when I feel optimistic and confident, when I’m living in that space where I know everything will work out. But then something happens that throws me off, that tells me I have no control, that makes me feel vulnerable and dependent on who-knows-what – anything but me. And no matter how many times I tell myself it’s just an illusion, that drugs can fix it…even two cups of strong coffee, I still can’t convince myself to keep the faith.”
“Are you taking medication?”
“No. I don’t want to be dependent on that stuff, or rely on an artificial means to deal with anxiety.”
“Many people tell me it helps them,” says my therapist, adjusting her glasses. “Have you tried it?”
“Once. Lexapro. Made me crazy and killed my sex drives and appetite. After eight days I stopped it and felt 100 percent better. So I guess it did help me.”
“There are other drugs–”
“Nope. I’d rather talk it out.”
“Okay,” she says, scribbling a note. “Let’s get back to your mother’s chain letter and why you won’t participate in the process.”
“I don’t participate in the process because every chain letter orders you to annoy your friends with something they didn’t ask for. And letters like that apply guilt, like all Hell will pour on your head if you break the chain.”
A thought bubbles to the surface. “I think it happened already.”
“You believe in curses?”
I ponder this. “Nahhh. Forget that. But thinking about it some more, Mom latest wasn’t that bad. This one said by sending it to 12 people, the Hell will drain.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“The conditions. You gotta see this.”
I retrieve from my pocket a crumpled wad of paper and expand it to something close to flat. Looking at the wrinkled inked page, I tell her, “I printed it, and the subject line says: Shluchot Prayer – I am not breaking this one.”
“What is a Schuchot prayer?”
“Exactly what I wanted to know. Damn. The title hooked me. So I started reading and the next words were, You never know… And I certainly agree with that, so I kept going, and it then said, You’re one of my 12…Shluchot — A mystical Jewish formula for good mazel and who of us can’t use that!? Please do not break! Just 27 words. G’mar Chatima Tova! And I’m thinking, more Hebrew. I don’t know Hebrew. My mom knows I don’t know Hebrew, and every rabbi who tried to teach me Hebrew knows I don’t know Hebrew! I flunked Hebrew! But I flunked French too so I guess I’m not prejudice.”
“Mazel means luck,” my shrink informs me.
That, I know. Mazel tov – Good Luck! So by process of elimination, tov must mean good. The only two Hebrew words I understand in translation. But who knows what G’mar Chatima Tova! means. And I’m supposed to wish this on my friends?”
“That was the email?”
“Oh no,” I reply. “We get to the prayer now. Second paragraph.” My eyes drop to the page. I read, “God our Father, walk through my house and take away all my worries and illness and please watch over and heal my family and other families too. Amen.”
I look up. “That really ticked me off!”
“Why? A zillion reasons why. First, they’re assuming God is my father.”
“A figure of speech.”
“No it isn’t. Zillions of people believe in a human type creator and I don’t.”
“Thank you! But like, the email, this prayer, it’s really pushy. It’s telling God…not asking God but telling God, to walk through our houses and deal with everything, everywhere. And then it says, ‘Amen,’ which means, So be it, which means, God, you’re committed. Pushy, pushy, pushy!”
“I think you have authority issues.”
“You really can’t take this personally, Irv.”
“Hey! It’s from Mom! And then it goes on to say: This prayer is so powerful. Pass this to 12 people. A blessing is coming to you of a new job, a house, marriage, good health, or financial comfort. Do not break or ask questions.”
My arms shoot to the sky. “More orders! Don’t even question it! Just do it. Well I don’t hop just because a chain letter tells me to!”
“But I really DO need a new job, marriage, good health and financial comfort!”
“So what’s next?”
I sit up. “Don’t know. I gotta think about it. Nothing happens by chance.”
“Can I have it?” my therapist asks, leaning forward and extending her hand.
“Why don’t you give it to me and I’ll send it on.” Her hand remains raised.
I give her the page, asking, “So I’ll be blessed by proxy?”
“So I will.” Her eyes drop to the words. “I could use this prayer right now.”
Oh…boy. I insulted her religion. I shoulda figured. Gotta turn this around. “I’m sorry,” I mutter. “I forgot about your partner’s cancer. That’s real trauma and I’m worried about fiddly stuff.”
“Everything has it’s place,” she says without a trace of judgment.
“How is your partner?” I ask.
“You think praying for someone else helps?”
“I do,” she answers, “if the prayer is sincere.”
“Well, this one says, …and heal my family and other families too. You’d be that other family.”
“We’re all one family, Irving.”
“Sure… Yeah…” I turn back to her. “You a Buddhist?”
I pop off the couch. “YOU’RE JEWISH?!”
“But you don’t have a Jewish name?”
“Is that a prerequisite?”
“Well I’m Jewish, and I believe in prayer, and I don’t know if there’s a personal God or not but it doesn’t make a difference to me. Like the email stated, I don’t question it. I just believe that a Power greater than myself can help me if I ask for it. And that’s comforting. And many times it works.”
“How do you know? Maybe it would have turned around anyway, even if you hadn’t prayed.”
“Does it make a difference? Prayer soothes me and gives me a feeling of connection. I don’t feel vulnerable like you do.”
A feeling of connection, that’s what Dana was all about: connection. Again my gaze shifts to my shrink. “Do you wake up happy?” I ask her.
“Generally I do.”
“So did Dana. She always woke up happy, even with the cancer. She always found something to be positive about.”
“That didn’t stick to you?”
“No. I’m hardwired to worry. Can’t break the spell.”
“Maybe you should pass forward the chain letters. You’d be part of the family then, part of the flow.”
“Yeah… Maybe. But it has to be sincere. Giving this prayer to you, that’s honest. I just want to keep it honest. I can’t stand ritual for ritual’s sake.”
“Well that’s you, Irv. Ritual for many brings them comfort.”
“I know. But I’m not like them. I’m a Visitor, and I have no idea where I’m from.”
“We’re all visitors, Irv. We’re all from some place else. And when we die, we’ll all return there.”
“Yeah… That’s what I’m worried about.”