Sunday, April 17, 2005

Passover Blues

It is my belief that there are far fewer people with evil intentions than there are plainly stupid people who can't see past their own selfish points of view.

Imagine a person who after paying over $75 for an unlimited summer pass at Six Flags Great Adventure got upset that the park charged an additional $8.50 each time the unlimited pass-holders wanted to visit the park. So, when he and his friends visited the park, he would insist that his friends carpool to defray the $8 burden because this individual didn't feel that the $8 was morally justified. One time, his friends got stuck in traffic for almost four hours on the way to picking him up, and since he was an hour out of the way (30 minutes each way), they asked him to hop in the car and meet them at Great Adventure because almost half the day was gone by then. In this individual's single-mindedness, he didn't want to pay the extra $8 because he thought it was morally unjustified; when his friends pleaded with him and offered to pay the $8 to save the extra hour in travel time, he wouldn't accept the offer because he was so focused on not letting the park benefit from their unfair business practices. Eventually he got into a car and drove, but not after a fight.

That was me many years ago that pulled that selfish stunt and I was so stuck on the morality of an $8 parking bill that I was ready, willing, and eager to inconvenience my friends so that Great Adventure wouldn't get another few bucks out of us. In other words, I was so blinded by my stupidity that I was willing to hurt those I cared about. What spooks me is that for years I didn't see my own selfishness from that day.

Having this story re-told to me this Thursday has helped me to understand the karmic significance of this event. My friend who was in the car that day had a birthday this past Thursday and, as I usually do for my friends, I threw him a dinner party. I called the restaurant and arranged the whole thing. I confirmed with him two weeks beforehand to make sure he was free that night. I even spoke to him and confirmed the night before -- we were going to meet at 8pm -- I was going to drive into the city and I was going to take him out to a restaurant where his friends would be there waiting for him.

I got a bad feeling earlier that day when his voicemail came on in the morning and he didn't answer his phone. I left a message. I e-mailed him and told him to turn on his phone and to make sure he's available to talk so that we could coordinate his birthday party. No response. The travel time to get to him would be over an hour and a half -- if there was no traffic. Later, it was time for me to leave, and he still wasn't answering his phone. Going against my better judgment, I got in the car and drove to his house in the city; I got there at 8pm as per our confirmed plans. I waited in the car for around twenty minutes before going to the doorman to buzz him and ask what is taking him so long. His roommates told me he wasn't even in the apartment. I waited another thirty minutes. He wasn't there. Perhaps he was delayed on some lab project for his dental program, I thought, or perhaps some emergency came up... I continued waiting for another thirty minutes. I called his cell phone every ten or twenty minutes, but there was still no response. After an hour and a half of standing by his door, I decided to walk back to the car. My phone rang -- "private". I knew it must be him.

When I answered the phone concerned for his well being -- more specifically I was thinking about the lack of well being I would want him to experience if he forgot -- he told me that he knew I would be there, but instead he decided to go over to his girlfriend. Then he proceeded to lie to me that he called me a few times earlier in the day and left messages on my voicemail. [I have one phone number with a very good caller id system -- he did not call.] I played it cool and tried to take my attention off of myself being the fool and of me being the one who just stood by the door for over an hour like a dork while he was off with his girlie. The goal of the night was to show him a good time for his sake, so I felt that any anger I experienced was misplaced because the night was not about me -- it was about him. I dropped off the CD that I made for him with the doorman, and I called up the people who were planning on attending the dinner and I canceled the party because the birthday boy was a no-show. Sure enough, nobody showed up at the restaurant anyway and had he shown up to his own birthday party, it would have ended up being just me, him, and one other person who was going to come later. Everyone else bailed out. What loyal friends we have. I found a local store, picked up some food for dinner and headed back home. I was thinking about how I needed to get some new friends.

I would say that there is no moral to this story. I acted as a friend should act. One thought that comes to my mind is that just as I was blinded years ago by my sense of fiscal justice and I acted selfishly towards my friends to save $8, today my so-called "friend" acted selfishly towards me by not showing up to his own birthday party. His ex-girlfriend whom he went to visit would have even been there had he answered my e-mail. What gets to me is that he stood me up even though I inconvenienced myself for his benefit. This brings me to my thought that people so often act selfishly at the cost of inconveniencing others. Just there was no justification for my actions years ago with the Great Adventure story, there was no justification for my friend not to show up when he knew I and possibly many other people were waiting for him for his benefit.

I would say that with the changes in my life that I have made over the past few years, I have also grown to become a better person. One thing that I acquired in law school was a bullshit-o-meter. I also acquired a sense of justice, fairness, and a sense of right and wrong coupled with the reasoning abilities of a judge. In truth there was no justification for my friend's act, and since this is not the first time he has done something like this, I might decide that this friend might no longer be my friend.

In related matters, today my mom's husband (step-father) cried to me asking me why I won't come to his Passover seder (a ritual commemorating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt), and that as my mom's son, I have a duty to be there. What is surprising to me is that he finds no qualms requiring me to walk an ungodly distance (not allowed to drive/did it once - never doing it again) on an already over-busy holiday with many tiring time-sensitive commandments to fulfill. Plus, given that his intent was valid, namely to have the family together for the seder, he forgets that he is trying to force together a family that is not his to force. I do not belong to him, nor am I part of his family by anything except for by my mom's subsequent marriage after the divorce. I am almost thirty years old. There is no reason for him to expect me to buy into his claim that I actually have a duty to be there.

I think I can decide where I will be for the holidays. Other than the super-long walk and the inconvenient schedule-shifting on my part and on the part of others who would need to shift their schedules to accomodate me so that I could comply with his otherwise valid desire to have the family together, I simply do not enjoy the environment he creates when it comes to religion. I find it to be dry, lifeless, and flat-out depressing.

I want to point out a clear distinction here. The difference between me wanting to go wherever I will choose to go for the holidays and my mom's husband demanding that I have a duty to be there by him is that my desire does not require anyone to inconvenience themselves because of my decision as to where to attend. However, his desire will turn the whole experience upside down and will require me and others to act in ways that will put an undue burden on the holiday and defeat its purpose.

My father has a similar scenario on this same topic. The background here is that my father does not keep kosher, and there are strict halachot (Jewish laws) regarding what is permitted to eat and what is not permitted to eat on Passover. Further, there are specific ritualistic requirements on what specific foods to eat, when to eat then, and how to eat them; these rules are specific to the point that it tells you what food items you are allowed to have in your house during Passover, and what location each piece of food should occupy on your plate. As you know from previous posts, my dad doesn’t know the rules, and he frankly doesn’t care about them either. My dad is dating a non-Jewish woman and because of him, my little brother has learned that this is permitted and has followed in my father's footsteps.

To make matters worse, my dad has decided that he will have a seder at his house this year, and he expects me and my brother to attend. I told him to forget it, but my brother doesn’t have the heart to tell him no. Not only would it be a sin for my dad to make the Passover seder with non-kosher food, negating the rules and time requirements of what to do and when to do it, but because this year the seder is on the Sabbath (Saturday), if my brother attended, he would need to drive and break the Sabbath to attend. As if having my brother drive on the Sabbath wasn’t damaging enough, I believe that no good can come from my dad having the seder, and he will only cause harm to my brother’s soul and to his own. But he doesn’t care and adamantly requests my brother’s attendance. We are not even discussing the negative results this will have on my mother who has worked so hard to keep my brother on a straight path and who will genuinely miss him if he is not at her seder.

There is more to this story, and I cannot escape looking guilty to you, the reader. The point of everything I am writing here is that in fulfilling your desires, as a general rule it is important not to inconvenience others in your pursuit to get what you want. If your desires require others to change their position or if your desires will result in others inconveniencing themselves to cater to your wishes, it is important to double check that your desires are not selfishly motivated. Don't be stupid to think that your justifications give you the right to impose on and inconvenience other people. They simply don’t.


Victoria said...

I can completely relate to that story about your friend. It seems that in this day and age, people stand others up, or step on their toes every day so when a friend does it, it's not such a big deal for them. I was brought up much like you I suppose and am always on time and keep my word. I am often left waiting for people who decided to do that errand before meeting me and therefore are 15 min late or 2 hours. I think it's just rude and I don't stand for it more than once or twice. I think you're right and you need to make some new friends.
By the way, I saw that post on my blog and I wrote back....I am going to that seder in Kobe and I'm pretty psyched about it. I was planning on ditching passover this year from lack of supplies/lack of jewish friends, but I found a couple down south who want to go and they aggreed to drag me along. I hope you have a very nice passover wherever you go.

Zoe Strickman said...

Out of all the excellent news I could have imagined hearing from anyone about anything -- your news just topped the list! I'm excited that you'll be at the seder in Kobe. I hope it will be a great experience!

BTW, thank you for 1) reading the blog (sorry about all the depressing content), and 2) for the comment on friendships. This has been a tough area for me to figure out because I can never tell if it is okay or normal or not. Just as I hope to have new friends soon, I hope that you never have to deal with people standing you up or coming late, and I hope that you become first priority on everyone's list. Warm regards.

Daphnewood said...

This is such a disciplined religion. I am exhausted just reading about it! Your strength is to be admired