Songs of Praise – A War Diary
“Hashem, you are my portion and my cup; you guide my destiny.
I will bless God, who counsels me; even at night my conscience instructs me.
I have set Hashem before me always. Because He is at my right hand, I will not falter.
So my heart is glad and my soul is elated; my body also will rest secure,
because You will not forsake me to the realm of the dead,
nor will You let your faithful one see the Pit.
You will make known to me the path of life; the fullness of joy in your presence,
in Your right hand, delight is forever.”
Love and elation, security and hopefulness, support and sustenance. They are yours. There is a ground beneath feet and your heart. There is light. David, you are at one with God, assured of your position in the universe, serene about where you will and will not be at the final moment, and confident of its aftermath.
Today is a good day.
For many years, I have pondered the mystery of a good day. Why does one wake up in the morning and find that there is a buoyancy, an energy, a belief, that this is my life and it is worth living? And, then, the other moments, other mornings, grey and listless, desperate, unbelieving. The goal, whatever it may be, is unreachable. We move about, shuffle, mumble, sighing, in the kitchen, the bathroom, ashen faced and directionless.
I do not drink coffee, so I do not even have that routine to anesthetize the darkness rising, trudging aimlessly through the “whom-are-you-kidding-it-will-never-be.” But to wake up with “a glad heart,” with God as “guiding your destiny,” never forsaken, always seen, gently counseled, with the “fulness of joy” – could any human relationship ever match up to this? When you made love to a woman, David, walked beside a friend, played your harp, were these just way stations to a more perfect union, facsimiles of the Perfect Form?
What is a life if everything here is just a shadow, a replacement, a temporary placeholder, for the Invisible One with whom you have constructed the ultimate nurturing relationship. Never disappointed, never irritated, never a harsh word. Flowers at the perfect moment, exquisite ring measurements, sliding onto the finger like it was born there. Wisdom. Faith, Elation. What would it be like to share your bed, David, to serve your every whim, to admire your prowess and praise your courage, and to know, with finality, that your eyes are elsewhere, shining on a Star that is outside of time and space? You have left for another world, when the rest of us are still trying to make sense of this one.
Is happiness the way we were meant be, and unhappiness the aberration? Similar questions pop up in one of the cultural icons of the 1990’s, Peter Kramer’s book Listening to Prozac. Listening to his patients repeatedly affirm that taking Prozac not only relieves their depressive symptoms and radically enhances their mood, but also returns them to being the person they feel they were supposed to be, Dr. Kramer wonders what the import of all this might be for definitions of the self, of who we really are.
A patient named Tess phones him eight months after stopping her use of Prozac and says: “I am not myself.” Kramer notes correctly that this is a singularly remarkable statement for a variety of reasons: “But who had she been all those years if not herself? Had medication somehow removed a false self and replaced it with a true one? Might Tess, absent the invention of the modern anti-depressant, have lived her whole life … and never been herself?”
None of the anti-depressant warriors out there in the chemical flea market offer continuous uninterrupted happiness. Instead, loaded with macho two and three and four syllable tags–Zoloft; Prozac; Cipralex; Nortriptyline–they promise and often deliver a valiant fight against utter bleakness, and perhaps a bit more. The global anti-depressant market is north of 20 billion dollars. Maybe you would scoff, David, at our need for these `supplements’, just to cope with getting on with it.
But I would not judge too quickly. This war has driven everyone—not just the leadership of Hamas—underground in one way or another. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm tried to describe our inner lack, what Freud called `la malaise du siècle,’ the uneasiness “which is characteristic for our century. Feeling unhappy, strange, not even sleeplessness, life has no meaning… They have everything but they suffer from themselves.” To have everything and yet to be adrift; to be symptom free and yet to be profoundly ill; to be constantly exploring the inner world and yet to feel a floating sense of self-disconnection; this was the grave modern paradox to which Fromm gave expression.
Can God alleviate these symptomless symptoms, this insidious drift, the suffering from ourselves? Can this reaching out to the beckoning Void, the one that filled your “portion” and “your cup,” could that begin to alleviate our malaise, the searing fragility of our every step? My personal favorite expression of nightmarish dislocation comes from the fables of Franz Kafka. In “The Hunger Artist”, published in 1922, Kafka tells the tale of a man who has a gift for fasting and can go for weeks on end without eating. The hunger artist “performs” in a cage where men and women come to see him not eat. Sadly, this spectacle drops out of public fashion and his cage becomes an extremely marginal entertainment. As he is dying, he whispers that the secret of his fasting was simple. His statement is as good a metaphor for the modern condition as can be found: “I could never find the food I liked.”
But David, maybe God is all the food that we need.