My father was a chemist, devout atheist and firm believer in the power and logic of science. I seem to have gone in a different direction— a Zen meditation practice trying to become intimate with the ineffable, a jazz improvisation practice venturing into the dark forest of the unknown, an Orff teaching practice designed to get people comfortable with discomfort. And yet. I, too, have great respect for the machinery behind the magic, the ropes and pulleys of a working theory, sequential curriculum, practice with a clear design. I’m low on the blind faith and "just believe" side of the equation, high on cause and effect.
I spend long hours reading and writing about history to understand the atrocities and barbarities, about psychology to see what’s behind our bizarre behaviors, mythology to see some grand designs at work in the psyche. Knowing the causes of racism doesn’t subtract my grief over the suffering it has caused, but helps me put it in perspective and think about what needs to be done to finally eradicate it. Likewise, a solid psychological or mythological perspective (like the kind James Hillman lays out in his book The Soul’s Code) helps me understand my own bizarre behaviors just a bit better. Let’s face it, we’re all looking for reasons why things happen, whether it’s analyzing a Warriors loss (but not last night!) or trying to figure out how our brother turned out the way he did. Whether they’re true or not, ascribing causes helps confirm our hope that there’s meaning and order in the universe.
Now when it comes to health, I’m not happy when I pull my muscle playing basketball against the 8th grade, but it feels better knowing what caused it and what will heal it. If I go on a chocolate binge and get pimples (actually never happened), at least I know who to blame. If I’m not drinking water and am under great stress, my headache makes sense.
But what is maddening is when two things appear on my face that I have never seen before! I don’t know what they are and I don’t know how they got there and I don’t know what to do about it. One is like a pimple and the other like a rash with a bump. And then this sensitivity on top of my bald pate, so that taking a shower actually hurts a little. This makes me very uneasy.
And so I set off for the doctor and she gave it a name and gave me some pills and now I can cope with it better. It seems to be a mild, early case of Shingles. Not a happy disease, but better than cancer or a brain tumor and so far, mine is mild (though as I write, it is starting to itch a bit). But in the interim between their appearance and the diagnosis, my faith in the universe was crumbling. Never had this before, didn’t do anything differently, one night, all was fine and the next morning I was invaded by an alien. And then comes the pity. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Didn’t I work my butt off to give 200 kids a moment of glory on the stage? Is this my just reward?
Of course, while I keep telling myself the story of a benevolent universe and angels watching over me and such, I know that it’s only partly true and a hangnail could realistically cause my demise, not to mention cars making illegal left turns, a moment of inattention on my bike or the moment when the next earthquake hits. I like my story better, so I put these other thoughts far to the side. But all it takes are a couple of marks on my face and I’m in deep metaphysical angst.
Not to mention itching.
Not to mention itching.