Sunday, March 28, 2010
My Mind's Shadow
As a child, I was told that God is everywhere. And I would always ask myself, “Is He in the bathroom too?” According to my parents, the bathroom was an impure place,tumeh, a place where one’s most private body parts are exposed, the only walls in the house that ever saw a fully naked body. Well, if God is holy, would He be in the bathroom?
I never got an answer, perhaps because I never asked it out loud. Now, fifteen years later, I feel like I know the answer.
I spent most of my life trying to satisfy the God who shadowed me everywhere. If He didn’t follow me into the bathroom, He was waiting right there when I came out. And I noticed it. I felt it. He always knew what I was up to. He was with me in shul while trying to concentrate on the davening. He was with me at breakfast. He came to bed with me at night, and was even with me in my dreams. He never intervened though, he just stood there and watched. The most He would do, when I wasn’t conscious of His presence, was tap me on the shoulder, and when I’d turn around he’d give me that sadistic wink, as if to say, “I’m still here, buddy.” Wink.
Fuck off, I’d wanted to say. When I wasn’t too scared of Him.
Two years ago, still married and living with my then-wife and kids in Monsey, NY, I decided I needed to get away from God. I wanted no sign of Him, no shul, no hats and beards, no mezuzahs, and no negel vasser at my bedside. I hopped into my car and drove for five days. Destination: Sin City.
What happens in Vegas, of course, stays in Vegas. But I hoped that what happens in Monsey, stays in Monsey too. Especially God. I didn’t plan on taking Him with me, and I hoped He wasn’t going to tag along uninvited.
It was a Friday in June when I arrived in Las Vegas. At my hotel on the strip I started to unpack. I deliberately didn’t bring any white shirts, or any of my other Chasidic clothing; I didn’t bring anything that would remind me of God. I tried to tell myself, “It’s Friday, just a regular day,” and blocked out the thought of it being Erev Shabbos. I browsed the web and made my plans for the night. I really wanted to see the fountains at the Bellagio from the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and of course the strip clubs. Applying the bathroom logic, I was pretty sure a strip club would be Godproof. There would be naked women there; it seemed like a safe place.
I finished planning, and headed for the door.
It was already dark out, and as I stepped outside I felt I wasn’t alone. He was there, with me. He’d been hiding somewhere in my mind during the entire trip from New York, quietly tagging along without saying a word. If I knew he’d been following me I wouldn’t have come in the first place. Cunning bastard. Letting me come all the way to Vegas, waiting for me to unpack, make my plans, tuck in my beard, hide my payess under my baseball cap, and then reveal himself. Fucking psychopath.
But it was just that sadistic wink again, no intervention. I decided to ignore him. He came along to the casino, to the clubs, on my prowls along the strip. I seemed to forget about him in the strip club, perhaps He took off for a bit without me noticing, but He was definitely there when I left.
I began to feel anxious. Vegas wasn’t a good place to piss off God. What if he decided to kill me right then and there? A car accident, a freak fall from the balcony of my hotel room, or drowning me in the pool. Everyone would know I was in Vegas. I felt like scolding Him, now convinced that he might actually have something like that up his sleeve. “Uncool,” I wanted to tell him. “Really uncool.” He might’ve thought it would be funny; a prank He would pull on me, so He could laugh and laugh. I knew I had to give in, keep him happy.
I googled the nearest Chabad House and memorized the directions. “Tomorrow I’ll go to shul,” I decided. The Chabad House didn’t seem far, so I figured I’ll just walk there.
I awoke around noon. It was 105 degrees outside, with the temperature rising, and I soon noticed that I made a terrible mistake. The Chabad House was a little farther than it looked on the screen. It took me half an hour to realize it. I’d estimated (based on the small-ish map on my computer monitor) a twenty minute walk, but when I stopped someone for directions and asked how long it would take to get there, I was told I had another hour and a half to go. I’d come this far, though, prepared to appease God, make Him get off my back for just a bit. And I really couldn’t risk pissing him off now. I kept walking and trudged two hours in the desert heat in a polo and shorts.
I arrived there sunburnt, dehydrated, and ravishingly hungry. The prayers were over, and so was the meal. The rabbi was clearing the tables and welcomed me with a warm “Good Shabbos.” He prepared an entire meal for me, and asked where I was from. “New York,” I said, trying to keep it vague. He realized I didn’t intend to share much, and he left me alone.
I finished my meal, satiated and restful. But I was angry now. Fucking pissed. He’d tricked me! He knew how far the shul was, but didn’t say shit! He didn’t care about my sunburn, He didn’t care about my thirst, He didn’t care about any of it. If he really was so powerful, He could’ve done something. Hell, he could’ve given mekfitzas haderech, or sent an angel – or a rock – to bring me water. But He just didn’t give a shit.
That’s when it hit me. “He never intervenes! Why do I keep on trying to please Him?” If he did exist, he was certainly intent on not showing it. I began to doubt my sanity.
I stormed out of the Chabad House and hailed a cab. “The Mirage!” I almost yelled. I tried to yell louder than God, who was still right next to me in the cab. Although He wasn’t yelling back. Maybe I wished to hear him yell. One-way yelling didn’t feel satisfying. He just sat there, it seemed, with a self-satisfied, almost expressionless look, as if to say, “Did I say something?”
He still accompanied me to the parties that day, but I ignored him. Even now, He still comes with me wherever I go, but I’ve learnt to ignore Him. He stands over me having sex with my shiksa girlfriend, and He even gets into my bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. I still ignore Him and hope that some day He’ll give up.
But yes, He is everywhere, of course, always shadowing me, always the pesky tag-along who doesn’t seem to have an opinion, just there to annoy me. He’s there all the time. Even when I’m asleep. Or in the bathroom.
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