Friday, September 17, 2010

Universal prescription?

I was lucky today. I was able to get a last minute appointment for a haircut on a Friday afternoon. Usually, my barber is booked weeks in advance, but I thought I’d try calling even though the odds were stacked against me. I arrived thirty minutes before my scheduled appointment. I have learned that LA traffic can be mercilessly fickle. What is a ten-minute drive one day can inexplicably become a thirty-five minute drive the next day.

The small shop was full of people. I found a seat on a bench and picked up the October issue of Automotive magazine. I’ve loved cars since I was a boy. I settled in and began reading an article about the BMW 3 series. My reading was interrupted by a discussion between two young men seated next to me on the bench.

One of them said to the others Happy Yom Kippur. A young dark haired man asked his friend "are you going to Temple?" "No" came the annoyed response. "Why not?" "I don’t want to, it’s a waste of time," the blonde man stated curtly. The dark haired man pressed his friend further and asked "are you going to fast tomorrow?" "No" answered the tall blonde young man. The dark haired man insisted saying "it is only for one day!"

The blonde man quipped, "then you fast." The dark haired man said "I will, but you should too." "Why?" Asked the blonde man pointedly. "It helps you appreciate food and your other blessings." The blonde man said "I already appreciate food. I’ll eat tonight like I’m going to fast tomorrow."

The dark haired man asked "why wouldn’t you fast?" The blonde man said, "I don’t believe in religion. There, are you happy now? I don’t want anything to do with religion. It has no meaning, or value for me."

The discussion continued on like this for most of the thirty minutes while the barber cut their friend’s hair. The barber corrected the young men three times, asking them to lower their voices. “There are other people in the shop!” he said with the authority of a High School Gym coach.

At one point, the dark haired man pressed his blonde friend on the value of fasting; “It helps you understand what those who are hungry feel like.” The blonde young man quipped, “So, I should give up girls for a year so that I know what you feel like.” The other guys burst into laughter and the dark haired guy became quiet and crestfallen.

The dark haired guy regrouped and reinitiated his attempt to press his friend to observe Yom Kippur. His subsequent attempts were met with similar rebuffs. Finally, the blonde man got up along with the other friends and left the dark haired man sitting alone on the bench. The dark haired young man sat there quiet and hurt.

I felt for him; so, I leaned over and shared with him a rabbinical commentary about love. I stated, “that love is like water; the only way to hold it is with open hands.” Fasting is a conscious choice intended to open our spiritual selves by placing our own needs and gratifications aside. This spiritual practice open our hearts, our minds, our hands, and our very self to something greater than ourselves. Fasting is intended to ennoble the human spirit.

The barber finished with his friend and all the young men left the shop. The barber apologized to me for the loud discussion. “I’m not so old that I don’t remember being eighteen,” I said. “At eighteen, I knew all the answers.” The barber laughed in agreement adding, “it was just like people discussing politics.”

In both politics and religion, there are people who think they know what’s best for everyone else. “People are like that everywhere,” the barber said. “Yeah, but no one would try that at the pharmacy.” I retorted. What heals one person physically or spiritually can hurt someone else. What helped me seven years ago may not be what I need today, or what I will need in five years. If only folks could use the common sense of the pharmacy with politics and religion.


Dan said...

Father, this comment is off topic, but I posted a question on my blog as to which side of women priests and same sex marriage debate would Thomas Merton be on.

While visiting your blog, I thought that you might have an opinion.

If you wish you can comment on the post and include a link to your blog in the comment.



Sebastian said...

A wise and lovely story.

Philip Carrizosa said...

Very insightful post and very true.

Steven said...

I remember having a similar conversation with friends from my UCC church. We were at a restaurant and someone was ordering a meat entree and I questioned why he was ordering that on a Friday during Lent. Boy did I hear an earful from everyone at the table.