Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"I'm sorry" vs. "I'll never do it again"

I have a disembodied memory of an occasion where someone was apologizing for a wrong he had done, and the recipient of the apology said, "Don't be sorry, just don't do it again". Even then - it must have been years ago - something seemed wrong about this reasoning. I can't guarantee that I'll never do it again, but I can guarantee that I am sorry for what I have done. But the point was really driven home when I was watching the HBO series "Rome".

In it, an important and well loved political and millitary figure is assassinated. The assassin clearly respected the man he was killing, but his orders from the other side overrode that respect. As he drove the knife into the man's belly, he said to him with great sincerity, "I'm sorry sir".

Sometimes we do things that are beyond our control. Certainly we have the responsibility to control what we can, and not willingly do others wrong. And if we had total control of our actions, if we are truly sorry for what we did, we would not repeat the action. But since we do not, we should at least apologize.

And try not to do it again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Vomiting Mystic

Last night, drunk off my ass, kneeling before the toilet waiting for the opposite of eating to occur, I had a mystical experience.

Being nauseous is awful, but consummating the nausea is, to me, pretty much the worst thing in the world. Even if I fully expect it to make me feel better, I cannot put my finger in my throat. Now, sometimes even those that live a healthy lifestyle will puke, but when I find myself praying to the porcelain god it is usually my own fault. Rabbi Noach Weinberg has said that “pain is the price you pay for pleasure”, and indulgence in drink certainly has its price.

Last night, drunk of my ass, I wondered what Hell must be like.

The way I understand it, the pain our souls may suffer in the hereafter (whatever the correct way of looking at it is) is not “punishment”, per se. Punishment is external to the crimes which warrant it. Fair punishment is proportional to the crime, but that is a quantitative, not a qualitative, judgment. If I cheat in business, it may be fair to lock me up in jail. If I spray graffiti, it may be appropriate to strike my arse with a cane. But there is a logical gap, a human – and therefore somewhat arbitrary – decision lying between the crime and its punishment. But if I put my hand in a fire and I get burned, the question of fair or not doesn’t even come it. The “punishment” and the act are the same.

One of the “punishments” for drinking too much is the tortuous ordeal of nausea. And last night, kneeling before the toilet, the best I could do was look to God, take responsibility for my actions, and accept my “punishment” gracefully. Rising from my slump posture, I kneeled with certitude, with a complete understanding of why I was undergoing this ordeal.

Imagine vomiting for an eternity in the hereafter. Wrongful overindulgence doesn’t only have a physical price, but a spiritual one as well. Just as the pleasure of being drunk involves a certain freedom of the spirit, and just as the vice is a lack of spiritual steadfastness and discipline, the pain that attends it is also spiritual in nature. Sometimes God is merciful enough to let us purge our crimes during this life, and that is what I was counting on last night. What if I don’t get this opportunity in life and I have to purge myself after my earthly tenure? How long would that take? How awful would that be? How I wanted to purge, to puke, to pay.

But I would still not stick my finger in my throat. That would be akin to self-flagellation, that practice of some zealous and misguided religious people of inflicting corporeal punishment on themselves in order to willingly pay God for their sins. Mortification of the flesh. That is not my style at all. If God chooses to punish me, I want to take it gracefully. But I don’t think God wants me to punish myself, only to learn from my errors and from the messages he sends me.

I want to live better, and I know God is helping me. I need to try harder.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Why do we itch?

Why do we have a sensation that compels us to scratch? Ok, it helps us to keep insects off ourselves, and encourages us to keep clean. That's not the kind of itch I'm talking about. It makes perfect sense that we have a mechanism that makes us want to get foreign stuff off our bodies.

I'm talking about wounds, infections, bites and rashes. We have a biological mechanism that compels us to scratch exactly when scratching is the worst thing you could possibly do!

What I'm trying to say is that these mosquito bites are more annoying because they don't make sense.