Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is this a sin?

I have jaywalked through my life, taking short cuts wherever possible. Three weeks ago I was stopped short. Three weeks ago I walked into a car driven by a young P plate driver who herself was in a hurry. We met in the middle. Her life has moved on, it seems, but mine has stopped, if only temporarily. I broke my leg. Up high under the kneecap, a crack along one side of the long bone, my tibia.

Is this a sin?

I grew up in the spirit of the Catholic Church in a religion that held sin to be a voluntary act that came in two forms – the venial and the mortal.

Venial sins were easy to tackle. Off to confession, confess and be free of your sins after a few prayers, as determined by a priest in black, who absolved you without question, that is as long as the venial sins were of a generic nature – sins of disobedience, lying, stealing and the like.

Serious sins, the mortal sins, tended to be the sexual ones, those of impure thought, and impure thoughts covered a broad spectrum. Murder, eating meat on Fridays, missing Mass on Sundays or failing to fast for at least three hours before taking Holy Communion were also mortal sins, but in a clear cut, black and white way.

The line between the venial and the mortal blurred however when it came to impure thoughts because venial sins happened more by accident, as if without proper intention, but impure thoughts, loaded with intentionality, carried more weight.

You should be able to eradicate such thoughts and if you entertained them, if you allowed them to flourish in your mind, then you were indeed a sinner.

I could not sleep last night. My husband snored. My foot was hot. I could not switch off my mind. I was restless. This sedentary life does not suit me. There is an absence of any sense that I have something to look forward to beyond the next ten days and the next trip to the surgeon. My life is bracketed by this broken leg.

My husband tells me he dreamed last night that I had been kidnapped and he had been terrified for himself and for me.
‘You have Stockholm Syndrome’ he said to me in his dream. Stockholm syndrome develops when someone becomes attached to her jailer and persecutor.

I thought of my leg, my attachment to this part of my body by which I am held ransom. I cannot escape. I am tied to it, as a child is tied to her mother’s apron strings.

We visited the surgeon again on Thursday, nine days after our last visit. We had booked an appointment for the Tuesday but his secretary rang to cancel. He had a funeral to attend.

I had looked forward to the visit all week. We went first to medical imaging for the mandatory x-ray of my leg then off to the private consulting suites to see the surgeon.

He is running late. An early morning meeting at the Alfred, his receptionist says. He is now caught up in traffic on his way back.

The surgeon appears. He looks at the x-ray.
‘Where are we now?’
I tell him three weeks on Saturday.
‘Right, then I’ll see you in another ten days.’
Ten days before he wants to see me again, and the surgeon has not so much as looked at my leg, not once. He has not laid his hands onto it in any way, shape or form. He looks only at the x ray of my leg that stands silhouetted against the bright light box on his consulting room wall. He looks at this dark shadow on the wall and pronounces that I am doing well.

He speaks into a Dictaphone, his mouth close the recorder,
‘Elisabeth H is doing well, the bone is holding.’ He turns to me. ‘Ten more days and then we can get your knee moving.’ He smiles.

Small signs of progress. I wonder that I even needed to attend for this visit. I could have stayed at home, organised the x ray from elsewhere and sent in the film in my place.

I am sensitive to my transference to this doctor. I want to engage with him beyond a peremptory chat about the bone in my leg.

Before we leave, the surgeon jokes about the brace and tells me that it makes me look like a ‘dominatrix’.

The surgeon is married to a psychiatrist, he tells me, after I tell him that I work as a psychologist. ‘What sort?’ he asks. I mention psychoanalysis and the surgeon jokes that I should see some of his colleagues. ‘Personality disorders,’ he says. Then as a final after thought he adds, ‘surgeons cannot afford to have too much insight. It interferes with their work.’

Psychologists used to present Rorschach ink blots to test for personality attributes, these days they offer photographs of typical family scenes, a kitchen table, people gathered around, and they then ask the interviewees to describe what they see. The same family can become a family riven by conflict, a family drowning in grief, a family of strangers.

The same family can be in equal parts happy, in equal parts sad. To one onlooker, the older male figure is malleable. To another, he is a despot.

We see what we see from behind our eyes, from within our minds and not so much the ‘facts’ of the picture, when we are given permission to imagine.

There is room then in our imaginings to see all manner of things that invariably arise from within our own experience. We can only imagine from our experience, however wild and woolly our imaginings, because we come with a past, and an unconscious that is fuelled by experiences that go back to infancy including, the primitive thought processes that existed then, within our pre-cognitive minds, before we could think, when we were a mass of sensations, a body without clear form, arms legs mouth, teeth, tongue and inside. Skin, hair nails, fingers, toes taste smell, sight of objects as yet undefined, wordless, reliant on another or others outside for our very survival.

This dependence, this at one time persecutory, and at other times bliss-filled state of infancy stays with us forever and can be triggered by images, tastes and smells and all manner of experience in later life, but later filtered through our conscious mind, our thinking mind, our ego, as Freud would have it. Filtered as well through our super egos, our consciences, often into states of guilt.

The surgeon fingers my brace. ‘It makes you look as though you’re into S and M.’

I had not entertained such a thought till then, and wondered about the surgeon’s self-confessed lack of insight. Jokes can be revealing.

Certainly, the process of recovery from a broken leg has its masochistic moments, though perhaps not of a sexual nature, unless we dig deeper and reflect on the helplessness of it all. A turn on for some perhaps, but not for me.

Now I should not reflect on this further or my sin of jaywalking will slide into one of impurity, and that will never do.
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