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Reflections on the Fast of the Ninth of Av

by Peter Himmelman

July 30, 2012 | 7:54 pm

Today is the fast of the 9th of Av. I’m not gonna explain it for you if you don’t know what it is - and why should you? Who goes around afflicting themselves over the destruction of an ancient temple these days? Twenty-five hours without food or water. This isn’t some hippie juice-fast where you can pack away 2000 calories chuggin pineapple juice with protein powder and kid yourself that you were actually getting anywhere near the affliction zone.

It’s not having any water, any fluids at all that’ll get you thinking about ruined temples. And it’s not just the temples we’re mourning. It’s the hacked-off arms in Rwanda, it’s the Holocaust, it’s every rape and every murder, it’s every time someone looks at a kid with contempt and ruins his chances of a happy life. That’s all it takes really, just one look that says, “My god son, you’re such a fu&%ing dumbshit, what a worthless thing you are.”

I don’t have the scientific proof of course, but it doesn’t take test tubes and pie charts to know how fragile we all are, how susceptible to shame our tender selves can be. I was so afraid of getting hit in the nut with one of those bombs that I hardly ever told the truth. I was so afraid of letting my parents and my teachers and my friends know that I was human. I was so afraid of running the risk of hearing some of that awful shit, that from the time I was in kindergarten I began playing the part of one smart, on the ball, on the go, always got the right answer, always got the charm, sick motherf^$ker. And it worked. Worked like a charm until it didn’t.

I can’t remember when it stopped working exactly. It didn’t just grind to a halt, it sort of slowed down gradually, almost imperceptibly. I was the guy who was always doling out advice with a kind of concerned look on my face that said, “yeah, I hear you man, I know why you’re goin through what your goin through, I feel you.”

See, I could do this thing where I could bring a man low while he and everyone else thought I was really building him back up. That’s how I cut my competition. If you’re creating the illusion of always being on top, you sure as hell don’t want your competition standing tall. This is one of the things in life you do very quietly, very secretly; especially when you’re putting up this front of imperviousness. You gotta work really smart in the bullshit department. When I felt my alpha dog status was bulletproof, I’d start offering the advice, the faux kindness. And they fell for it every time. They never felt me kicking them in the balls. The problem was I didn’t have on my hazmat suit. I was wearing my regular clothes and the stuff I was doing and saying soaked through to my own skin and made me a believer too. I had effectively succumbed to my own bullshit. And like I said, it worked for a while until it didn’t.

 

Now, the train’s stopped, the temple’s burned down and I don’t know which way to turn. I’m suddenly hanging on, suspended by a wire in a strange place, in a state of mind that’s as infertile as the Mojave. I ask myself, how long can you live in fear? How long can you live without food, without water? I guess that’s the point. Sometimes life puts you in a place where you can no longer trick yourself; a place that just heaves you out. Out in the street. Out in the cold.

They call that place exile and sometimes it’s not a punishment at all, sometimes it’s a blessing. It’s a hard thing to understand when you’re in pain, I know, but sometimes being banished from what’s comfortable is an answer to a prayer. Maybe not the answer you expected, but what is?

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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In addition to being a Grammy and Emmy nominated songwriter and composer, Peter Himmelman is a visual artist, writer and founder of Big Muse—an organization dedicated to...

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