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Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Voice of God

Every year in September, my wife gets a hankering for some of that good ol' fashioned religion. It's no accident that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall in September. It's the Jewish New Year, a time for spiritual renewal, repentance, and reflection.

But I'm not so into it.

It's no secret. I'm, at best, uncomfortable with the idea, and the practice, of religion. I don't like going to synagogue, where I am torn between reading Hebrew phonetically on the right page to prove that I can read it, because I learned how to when I was twelve but cannot translate it, or reading the English on the left page and feeling like a tool who doesn't know the tongue of his father, and his People.

And then I see people bowing and turning to the left and to the right and holding their hands up at very specific places and I feel like the scab actor who showed up four weeks into the run of the musical going, "When was I supposed to learn this choreography?"

Because, apparently, I never did.

I think it's wonderful that religion brings comfort to people, but I doubt I'm going to die with the Shema on my lips, like you're apparently supposed to if you're, you know, Jewish. Knowing me as I do, I'll probably die after saying something incredibly stupid like, "I've got this strange craving for marble rye right about now."

In the old books, God used to talk to people all the time, but He's never said anything to me. I guess that's a good thing because, these days, when God talks to you, they lock you up in a psychiatric hospital, like the one in which I work. Of course, sometimes they lock you up when God refuses to talk to you.

One of my patients, (we'll call her "R"), has acute psychosis, or so they say. She's waiting for God to talk to her, but He's not talking, and, although it sounds strange to say it, I kind of wish He would.

I met R on Thursday. She was sitting on her little bed in her little room with her legs crossed, looking at the wall, or nothing at all, really. I asked her if I could sit down and have a chat with her.

"Of course," she said.

R is approximately fifty years old. She has long, brown hair, parted straight down the middle, with streaks of gray running through it. Her face is smooth, unlined, and pleasant looking. Unlike most of the patients I meet, R has all her teeth, and they are far straighter than mine. She wears a colorful, striped sweater and beige capris. She does not look-- or smell-- like the typical psych patient, if such an animal exists.

R and I talked for a while. She expressed that she was feeling anxious because she saw on the news that a huge rain was coming and she was afraid that she would be discharged from the hospital.

"I'm homeless, you see," she said to me.

I was taken aback for a moment, and then I remembered overhearing a nurse and a psychiatrist talking about R earlier in the week. She gets admitted all the time-- a "frequent flyer"-- and she is indeed homeless, but she needn't be. See, she has approximately $500,000 in a trust account, or a savings account, or a checking account-- the result of a behest or a trust or a settlement or award, I don't know the particulars. But R refuses to withdraw any of the money until she hears God's voice directing her to do just that.

And God's not talking to R these days.

So she's homeless. And she won't qualify for medical assitance or any government subsidy because, well, as homeless people go, and even as landed gentry go, R's pretty well-to-do. On paper, that is. When we talked, I feigned ignorance and asked her about her financial situation. She minimized and was vague.

"Well," she said, "I have some money in an account, but I don't... have access to it. It's complicated."

The understatement of the year, I thought to myself.

The hospital has tried everything. They've brought in financial advisors to try to convince R to take out some of the money, even just to rent a modest studio apartment for herself. She won't do it. They brought in a priest with whom she had a good rapport to implore her, as God's messenger, to withdraw some of the money. She wouldn't hear of it.

Fortunately, R and I hit it off during our fifteen minute chat. Smiling at me, R said gently,

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"No," I answered.

"Are you studying to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist?"

I smiled at her.

"No," I said, "I'm thirty-- a bit old to be starting that sort of thing."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," R said, smoothing out a wrinkle on her pants. "You have such a kind, thoughtful way of speaking to me-- you really know how to communicate beautifully, and I just know you would make a wonderful therapist. I feel very comfortable talking to you. Thank you for treating me with such dignity."

I thanked her and hastily concluded the interview, before the lump in my throat got unprofessionally-sized. I know I can't save R-- I'm no psychiatrist or psychologist, and I'm certainly not the voice of God. But the thought of that woman sleeping out on the streets is keeping me up at night. And I said I wouldn't let that place get under my skin.

1 comment:

  1. Sigh. Poor woman.

    And she's right. You probably would make a wonderful therapist, you know.


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