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.


Ms. Moon said...

Religion and medicine- Two things I am highly distrustful of. You summed up why quite nicely.

Elizabeth said...

I was going to say something nearly exactly like Ms. Moon. And I also wanted to chew a bit on "‘surgeons cannot afford to have too much insight. It interferes with their work.’"

That's an amazing statement and, unfortunately, incredibly self-aware.

Art Durkee said...

It's lovely how entrenched habits of thoughts can tie people up in knots. The Catholics are really good at guilt. The Lutherans are better at shame, BTW. Those things we're taught to believe are true are usually what tie us up in knots more than anything else.

I don't believe in these categories of "sin" in the slightest.

What I DO know about is how easy it is to beat oneself for things that are NOT one's fault, but rather the results of accident and mischance. It's all too easy to beat oneself up for believing one is somehow responsible for all of one's misfortunes. Please don't do that to yourself.

The New Age version of this is the idea that "your belief creates your reality." But all too often people use this to beat others up, to blame the victim, to guilt each other out. Please don't do that to yourself, either.

Laoch of Chicago said...

I don't really like the sound of you surgeon. I did enjoy taking the Rorschach when I was a kid. My mom was a psychologist who specialized in testing children so I was one of her guinea pigs growing up. It was an interesting test.

Mike McLaren said...

I cheat whenever possible—the guitarist in me. The fastest, easiest way to get a thing done is usually the best way, 'cause the "right" way is usually convoluted and cumbersome.

As for impure thoughts, I'm sure the Dalai Lama, every once in awhile, thinks it would be nice to slap around the Chinese Prime Minister.

Sad to hear about your leg. That really sucks.

And as for imagination... that's all we have. Since I am no longer experiencing yesterday, I have to make it up in my head. I just pretend that what I think is the way it really happened, though I'm pretty sure I'm just making up stuff.

Patrinas Pencil said...

I haven't visited in quite a while. I love the way you write. You are such an easy read. Funny and real. Sorry about the leg.and you Long Term captivity. I have no broken bones but I understand the captivity part. Hang in there and do some more writing - Take this time to rest and ponder. Let it be a gift :) instead of a prison.

God speed your healing
Patrina <")>><

Elisabeth said...

Ah, Ms Moon, religion and medicine, they have both been powerful institutions over time, with medicine overtaking religion these days, at least in the western world. you are wise to be skeptical, but I suppose there is a place for both as long as they do not seek absolute control and certainty, as long as they can hold onto doubt.

Thanks Ms Moon.

Elisabeth said...

The surgeon is a strange one, I think, as you say filled with insight about his need to avoid insight.

I have mixed feelings about him, but I value his conservative approach to treating my leg.

He keeps telling me that other surgeons would have operated straight away without question in order 'to guarantee a good result', namely that the bone does not move, not once pinned into place.

Instead he is allowing the broken bone to heal slowly and naturally as much as we take a risk that it still might move when I start to bend my knee, but the longer we take to try this, the less likely it is that the bone will move, especially if we bend the bone gradually at 15 degree increments one week at a time until I reach 90 degrees of 'bendability' and can drive a car again.

Thanks, Elizabeth. I imagine you've encountered your fair share of surgeons and the like in your time.

Elisabeth said...

It's that notion, that 'your beliefs create your reality' that scares me most of all, Art.

How can anyone believe that? How can a child born into a war torn country, one riddled with drought and poverty, be held responsible for the circumstances in which he or she find themselves?

But these powerful doctrines foisted upon us in childhood, these rigid belief systems can tie us into knots, as you say, and it can take whole life times to untangle these knots and only then if we are lucky, get help, can persevere, etc.

How difficult it is for someone to leave a cult for instance. Those in power can certainly bend pliable minds.

Thanks, Art. I enjoy reading your words of wisdom

Elisabeth said...

I'm a tad skeptical of psychological tests myself, Laoch. I think they can be fun. I think they can produce 'interesting' results, but I also think we have to be careful about how literally we take them.

That said, things like the Rorschach and an analysis of one's subjective response to a series of images can be fascinating, but again not as a statement of fact.

I'm not sure whether to commiserate with you or be jealous. Fancy being the son of a psychologist, Laoch.

According to what I've read, it has its drawbacks.

Elisabeth said...

Jaywalking, taking short cuts and cheating, they are all related, aren't they, Mike? I had to think there for a minute.

I like the image of the Dalai Lama 'losing it' with his enemy, if only in fantasy. I suspect, no matter how tolerant we are, we all have our moments.

I couldn't agree with you more about the nature of imagination. Memories unfold constantly, especially in writing. We are forever revising them.

Thank, Mike.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Patrina. It's lovely to see you here again.

That is certainly the best thing that has come out of this enforced quiet time for me, Patrina. I've had so much more time to write. And I love it.

Words A Day said...

HI, I came over from Willows blog, I found your post fascinating, all the connections you explore...the s&m joke was very revealing, maybe the surgeons choose to stay remote from their complexites in order to focus? Hope you recover well, it must be hard to feel helpless, may you get lots of writing done!

Zuzana said...

I found it very interesting how you contemplate life's more serious side, due to your recent very unpleasant experience. I do not think it is just a broken leg - your accident have made you reevaluate much of your life, which is bound to happen when something dramatic occurs in it.
I am myself going through troubles and suddenly I am finding myself doing things (sins?) I never thought I would. It is like I am getting to know myself again.
I hope you will get well very soon, have a lovely weekend and thank you for your always very genuine and kind comments at my place; I treasure your visits.;)
Much love,

Jim Murdoch said...

There are sins (things God tells us are wrong or people tell us God tells us are wrong), crimes (things governments tell us are wrong which subsequent governments might decide were not so bad after all) and personal choices (things our consciences decide are right or wrong depending on the circumstances). Of course there are a lot of things that exist in the modern world that God never expressed an opinion on which his followers still say are wrong; they extract the principle from one ruling and apply it to another. Some follow the rule of law blindly – not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk – and some step back and realise that there’s more going on here than some arbitrary dietary restriction.

I wasn’t brought up as a Catholic. I was brought up to believe that “the wages sin pays is death” and there’s no such a thing as a big sin or a white lie. All sins warrant death. One – sinning against the Holy Spirit – is unforgiveable. But other than that the consequences of lying are as bad as are the consequences of murder certainly as far as the liar and the murderer go. A perfect man can contemplate a sinful act but he doesn’t commit sin until he acts on his thoughts so even though a man can be said to have committed adultery with a woman “in his heart” neither the Christian congregation nor the secular authorities would consider that a judicial matter.

I can understand someone become attached to an illness or a disability. Although they might argue that’s what wrong with them shouldn’t define them socially on a deeper level our limitations are a part of our identity. I’m an asthmatic. That’s as much who I am as being male or Scottish all of which restricts (or imprisons) who I am. I look at long distance runners, women and Australians from the outside. I’m serving a life sentence on all three counts.

A broken leg will only keep you locked up for a few months – hopefully – even a bad break like yours. That said reintegrating back into your old life may not prove to be so easy. Imprisonment changes us. After my long period of mental illness I find that I’ve become comfortable in my prison, by that I mean the physical flat, and I seriously have no desire to go outside at all. My head tells me that I need to, if only to get more exercise, but my heart is quite happy with me pottering around here all day long. There are different opinions about how long a habit takes to form. Let’s say it’s a month. After a month that habit needs to be broken. It took me years to stop drinking milk in my coffee. Now if I have milky coffee it tastes odd. What was normal – something I enjoyed many times every day – has now become unnatural and even unpleasant.

As infants we were taken care of in every possible way. We were comfortable with it. We accepted it and expected it. As we’ve aged we’ve grown more and more used to taking care of ourselves and there’s pleasure to be found in that, in independence, in self-sufficiency. When we’re ill though an opportunity is provided for us to relive what it used to be like all those years ago. When was the last time someone washed your leg before the accident? It’s nice. That is unusual does not make it kinky (to use your S&M analogy), sinful, criminal or wrong unless for some strange reason you decide it ought to be.

I knew that the Rorschach Test had fallen by the wayside pretty much these days but I’d never really thought what might have replaced it though now you’ve mentioned it I have seen that method used on TV. It reminded me of a time that Carrie and I were in a gallery in the east end of Glasgow. There were a number of portraits on a wall – small one so there were maybe a dozen or so – and Carrie said to me, “I like the sad one,” to which I replied, “Which one’s that – they’re all sad.”

River said...

Only ten days until you can get your knee moving? That's great news! It's going to fly by, you'll be walking around on your own again in no time.

I don't believe in religion. I do believe in faith.

steven said...

elisbaeth - - thankyou for this fascinating post. on the subject of guilt around an accident. perhaps because i am not catholic, perhaps because i admire the thinking of musician brian eno, i ascribe fully to a phrase he uses to drive a better understanding of "accidents": "honour thy error as a hidden intention". if you examine your experiences from that perspective it provides for some very fruitful introspection!!! steven

Robert the Skeptic said...

It is a very religious-base concept that we somehow "cause" things to happen to us through our actions. One of the most liberating things about letting go of religious belief was the release of this unfounded guilt. (Having been raised Catholic, I understand the guilt thing).

There are accepted statistical facts on how many people will end up with broken tibia bones as well as a myriad of other things that routinely befall human beings.

Though it may have come across as disconcerting that the doctor made the assessment of your leg based on the X-ray.. that really is the ONLY factual and rational basis to make a decision... but you already knew that.

You are doing what you can and should with this little diversion from your routine. You will remember it and it will slightly effect your life and future, as it should.

I look forward to hearing a jubilant post from you when you are finally freed from the "shackle" brace on your leg. Were it possible, I would give the thing a kiss to help speed recovery along.

Taradharma said...

in response to Steven, sometimes accidents are just accidents. It could be useful to imagine some unconscious intention, or it could just be meaningless torture.

I take short cuts all the time, too. And I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Are we to be punished for our very human actions? I don't think so.

PT is going to be very challenging, and I say "Rest up!" I underwent several months of PT as a result of a similar break. Slowly but surely you will get back to 'normal.' I swear it.

Taradharma said...

in response to Steven, sometimes accidents are just accidents. It could be useful to imagine some unconscious intention, or it could just be meaningless torture.

I take short cuts all the time, too. And I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Are we to be punished for our very human actions? I don't think so.

PT is going to be very challenging, and I say "Rest up!" I underwent several months of PT as a result of a similar break. Slowly but surely you will get back to 'normal.' I swear it.

Art Durkee said...

I think the Dalai Lama would say: It's not that you have feelings or urges, it's what you choose to do with them, how you choose to respond to them, or act on them. I've seen him in person three times in my life, for public talks, lectures, discussions, etc., and the man's presence is like a living embodiment of peace and humor. He has been asked about the Chinese invasion of Tibet many, many times—you can go look up what he's said in response for yourself—and he would say, Hate solves nothing. Hate is uncreative.

So is the idea that we create our own reality, when we use that as a bludgeon to harm each other. The Dalai Lama would say, as would other great spiritual leaders, that if we create our own reality, so does everyone else. Some of these are bound to cancel each other out. Some are more powerful than others. I think the Dalai Lama has the, shall we say, oomph, to create a stronger reality than I do. (Which is fine, as I like his reality.)

The positive aspect of "you create your own reality" is that we have choices, which of course means we have responsibility for the outcome of our choices and actions. That's not only a burden, it's a joy. It means that we DO have choices. It also means that one very important choice is to stop living in the past, stop second-guessing everything we do, and develop some forward momentum.

You talked about learning to let go of the old teachings: that's exactly how that process starts. Well done.

Kirk said...

Not everything that is against the law is a "sin". Modern governments have a responsibility toward public safety, along with making sure our highways and byways don't get too chaotic. But if you define immorality as either a deliberate attempt to hurt somebody, or hurting somebody out of extraordinary carelessness and self-indulgence, and, as an agnostic, that's about the only way I can define immorality, well, then your innocent on the first count. You weren't deliberately trying to hurt anybody by jaywalking. How about the second count? It could be argued that you were careless and self-indulgent by not crossing at the light. But to an extraordinary degree? Millions of people around the world jaywalk without getting hit by a car. Plus, people have been hit by cars at a crosswalk while obeying all the rules. With that in mind, the Rev. Kirk Jusko pronounces you free of sin. Of course, that and a library card will give you a book to read for a couple of days.

Domintrix comes from the word dominate. In your present condition, I doubt if you're in much of a position to dominate anyone. Maybe that surgeon read your previous post, and fantasizes about delivering tea. That's all I can figure.

Anthony Duce said...

I enjoyed your thoughts, this week and last, as you recover….. A very good read.

Elisabeth said...

Welcome, Words a Day. It's lovely to meet you here.

I think that is the point of it: surgeons lack insight in order to stay focused based on the belief perhaps that if they were to allow themselves to be distracted by the thought that they are dealing with a real flesh and blood person here, whose feelings matter - just as do their own - then they might wobble with knife in hand and cut a vital nerve.

So instead of literally cutting real nerves they sever their own psychological ones, as a defence against too much caring.

Does it work? I wonder. Most people would argue it does, and that belief may be based on the myth that has developed around surgeons and their need for thick sins.

Thanks, Words a Day. I shall visit your blog shortly once I've responded to the folks who follow here with a comment.

Elisabeth said...

This is certainly a time of reappraisal for me, Zuzana. And as much as I protest I find it useful. I hope you too find your struggle through your own difficult moments helpful. We would never wish these things upon ourselves and yet they can be extraordinarily helpful all round.

As so many people seem to say here, it depends on how we approach them.

Thanks, Zuzana.

Elisabeth said...

Here I think you touch upon some of the differences between morality and ethics, Jim. As I understand it, one is community driven, the moral side - rules established for the social order, and the other is more a personal response to one's own sense of right and wrong.

There are some rules that seem to me pretty absolute,namely that you don't kill, despite the overruling of this rule in times of war and in self defence, and then there other rules that require greater flexibility.

This idea that one sin, regardless of its nature, is as bad as another strikes me as nonsensical, Jim, though many religions if adhered to too rigidly become nonsensical.

Even I picked that up as a child when I was still something of a 'believer'.

I have more trouble with guilt these days, Jim, in some ways because for me guilt is far more nebulous and at the same time more real.

To me guilt is based on the notion that I might genuinely and unnecessarily hurt someone else, and particularly if that some one is one whom I care about and love. Then guilt really burns.

At the same time, I find myself less riddled with guilt because usually I can talk it through with the person whose feelings might be at risk and therefore there is the possibility of moving beyond the pain. Though this is not always possible.

In instances like this my guilt festers like dead leaves in a stagnant pool of water. After a while they start to stink and I have to write about them or do something else that might lift the load.

You've covered so much ground here, Jim. I agree that as time passes, I'm beginning to enjoy having my leg washed. I'm beginning to enjoy my release from housework etc. I might find it hard to go back to how things were before the break. I suspect, I won't go back to exactly how they were anyhow.

And as for the Rorscach, we all see things so differently. It's what I marvel at when people respond to my posts and to yours. We all seem to see different things in the same posts, as if the light falls on certain ideas at different angles, depending on who's reading.

One point gets highlighted for one person, while the same thing remains in darkness for another. Something else then stands out for the other.

It's wonderful.
Thanks Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Eight days now, River, before I can begin to move my knee up to a 15 degree angle. That's not a lot of movement, but you're right, River, it is an achievement and soon I will be able to bend my knee to 90 degrees and beyond. It just seems slow from here.

You mention that rather than believing in religion you believe in faith.

For me, rather than religion and faith, I think I go along with hope. Hope for me is the great redeemer. It's the thing that tends to keep me going.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

I have been running Brian Eno's words through my mind all morning, Steven, since I first read them late last night. I am a fan of Eno's music.

"honour thy error as a hidden intention"

That's such a wonderful way to put it. Do you know by any chance where I might find the reference to this wonderful statement it's one I'd like to repeat elsewhere and for academic purposes I need to cite my sources.

I could of course, if necessary ascribe it to Steven within the blogosphere under personal correspondence. I do that from time to time and certainly you are infinitely quotable, but only ever with due attribution.

Thanks again, Steven, for your quiet wisdom.

Elisabeth said...

Robert, by all means you can 'kiss my brace' to speed my recovery along, though it seems odd.

Though no more odd than the way I kiss the sealed and stamped envelopes of letters I send to my special friends and loved ones, in order to wish them speed on their journey and a welcome reception.

Lapsed Catholics, I think, have a special understanding of guilt that seems to run in our veins long after we relinquish the hold of dogma.

And yes, you are right. I know the surgeon does not need actually to see or touch my leg in order to help it to heal. I only wish he would do so as a sign of solidarity perhaps, or as a measure of empathy.

If the surgeon operated on my leg he would get up close and personal inside my leg, but given that we do not intend such a terrible intrusion he steers clear altogether and relies on x-rays, as I suppose he should.

I'm so aware as I write these words to you, Robert, that I play around with metaphor and meaning all the time and as I do do some of the concrete realities of experience might seem ridiculous to me, when to a surgeon they make perfect sense.

The surgeon and I operate in different spheres - the literal and the metaphorical.

Thanks Robert.

Elisabeth said...

As Freud once said, TaraDharma, 'sometimes a cigar s just a cigar', I'm sure there are times when an accident is just that, an accident.

But this accident seems to have layers of meaning that I'm keen to explore, from the simple one of just a consequence of bad luck - in the wrong place at the wrong time - to the more complex one of unconscious intention.

I'm looking forward to physiotherapy, as a sign of progress, but I think it may still be some time off. Still we'll get there.

Thanks for your reassurance, TaraDhama. I appreciate it.

Elisabeth said...

I can agree with the idea that 'we create our own reality' up to a point, Art, and particularly as it pertains to the issue of freedom of choice.

It's just that some people seem to have more opportunities to make choices than others. Some people seem to have no choice. Some who are born with the most ghastly infirmities, for instance or those born into extreme poverty or war torn regimes as I've mentioned before.

But all being well, when we have opportunities in life, even limited ones, we have room for choice.

My analyst once talked to me of how some people are born with very little and they manage to make a great deal out of it. Others are born with what would appear to be a great deal of opportunities and resources and they make very little of it.

It's like the story of the three little pigs in some ways. I must be careful to avoid generalities, Art. It's so easy to do so in these posts and comments.

You are a lucky - fortunate, - well organised - soul, whatever, to have heard the Dalai Lama speak, not once but three times. He must mean a great deal to you.

I've been impressed as well by what I have heard of him from afar.

I find it so easy to fall in love with certain people I have to be careful.

Thanks Art.

Elisabeth said...

'Millions of people around the world jaywalk without getting hit by a car.'

I find this idea comforting, Kirk. Certainly I could not count the number of times I've overstepped a pedestrian crossing, and this is the first time, I've encountered a car in this way.

I doubt that I will ever again take a short cut on a crossing again. The laws are there for good reasons and most of us cut corners here and there with little consequence. It's only when we come to grief in so doing that we have to re-think our old ways.

I suspect this 'guilt' has something to do with my concern about losing control. If I beat up on myself, I somehow take back some fantasy of control - It wasn't an accident, after all. It was my fault. I made it happen.

This s fanciful, I know, but it seems to be part of a process for me on my way to understanding and acceptance.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Anthony. I'm glad you enjoyed the writing.

My writing, like your art is a way into creativity. And like you I love to share my practising.

little hat said...

I need to go back and read all the commnets. Time! Time! You always attrack BIG responses. Mine (in a hurry): Sin. Mortal or venial. They are powerful memories. I would not have imagined the link between broken bones and impure thoughts. Just delicious.

Jim Murdoch said...

If you look at the Law that God handed down in the wilderness – the 600 rules not simply the 10 commandments – you can see quite clearly that there were different penalties for different infractions of that Law; not every single one resulted in someone being stoned to death. There really is only one crime though and that is sin: the stealing, the adultery, the coveting one’s neighbour’s ass are simply evidences of sin. The bible says that the wages that sin pays is death which is why lying is as bad a murder. The Law was only every a stopgap. The reason Jesus was sent to earth and had to die as a perfect man was to buy back what Adam lost. In other words if Adam hadn’t sinned his offspring would all have been born perfect and not handicapped by a natural inclination to be sinful. The fact is that although everyone isn’t executed everyone still dies but the bottom line is that we’re dying because of what someone else did and not for our own sins. That’s what I meant when I said that all sins were equal.

Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realises or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation, according to Wikipedia. I suspect that ‘Catholic guilt’ is a proactive kind of guilt, one that expects one should feel guilty and so finds way in which to feel guilty and often ends up feeling guilty for no good reason. I often find with me that guilt is to enjoyment what heartburn or indigestion is to eating. The effect guilt (real or imagined) has had on me is exemplified by the story I told you about the gallery; I see sadness in everything. I feel that everything is burdened in the same way that I am. Guilt is addictive. In the book I’m writing just now the protagonist is searching for a word to describe how she feels. She understands the concept of angst (as opposed to anguish) and so decides she’s feeling from guilst (as opposed to genuine guilt) and I think that’s me. It’s conditioning. Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of the bell; I see I’m alive and so start to feel guilty or maybe it’s the other way round: I feel guilty therefore I am.

Woman in a Window said...

Holy geez, I suddenly feel the need to cover my parts, AND MY MOUTH, my mouth can be revealing. Not only are you a reader and writer, but you are a psychologist. You can see a great deal. (I laugh.)

I am still inside of the undulation of your sin. I love the way you write, the way you think.

Ann ODyne said...

No 'it' is not A Sin, merely a Traffic Misdemeanor; and it is one because if you do it, and concurrently a Motorist also does a Traffic Misdemeanor, ie, approaching a marked crossing at excessive speed and inadequate attention, then A Leg Will Be Broken.
The P-plater failed to 'at all times drive to avoid an accident'.
An accident is what you get when two people make an error simultaneously.
If she hasn't sent you flowers yet, I'd slap a writ on her.

Art Durkee said...

The Brian Eno quote, "honor thy error as a hidden intention," is from the Oblique Strategies, originally a deck of cards for artists and musicians and other creativess, invented by Eno and Peter Schmidt. The idea is to draw a card, when creatively stuck, and follow the advice. It's a very effective way of getting unstuck and moving forward. I've used the Oblique Strategies as an artist and composer for decades.

My friend Gregory Taylor maintains a website that is all about the Oblique Strategies, their history of editions, and even includes a web-based application that allows you to use the Oblique Strategies via your browser:

I highly recommend checking this out.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Little Hat. It is a strange link, brokwn bones and impure thoughts but for me the connection works.

I've started work on a essay incorporating some of these ideas, I'm calling it - as a working title at least - 'Brittle Bones'.

There's a resonance there for me that is both literal and metaphorical.

Elisabeth said...

'...if Adam hadn’t sinned his offspring would all have been born perfect and not handicapped by a natural inclination to be sinful.'

You're talking here of 'original sin', I take it, Jim, and original sin becomes anything that displeases God.

I can understand this logically, Jim, but I don't adhere to it, nor do you, I imagine.

I have trouble writing about these ideas because i move in and out of my childhood understanding of these rules, to which I once tried to adhere, and my adult sense of them.

They are quite different and yet I gather there are some who would maintain my child's view of these laws and what the bible decrees.

As you say so eloquently: ' guilt is to enjoyment what heartburn or indigestion is to eating'. And yet we tend to embrace it.

There's no Quickeze for guilt and for me no more confession, just a strange process of needing to 'work it through' both in my mind and in discussions with others, in order to get through to the other end and not feel too badly about myself.

Guilt is a nuisance but a total absence of guilt would be worrying indeed. Guilt must be connected to empathy in some way because without some understanding of it and recognition of the degree to which we might hurt other people, we would live in an anarchic and cruel world.

Thanks, Jim, for your wonderful efforts at clarifying your take on sin.

Elisabeth said...

She hasn't sent me flowers, AnnO Dyne, nor is she likely to. You have stirred up some greater annoyance in me vis a vis my little p plater, but I probably have to let it go.

She's young and inexperienced, frightened too, I imagine.

I'm having enough trouble dealing with my own response, let alone hers.

But I have had it in my mind to telephone the Boroondara police at some stage to find out what the report says about who was where and what happened from the p plater's account and from mine.

Maybe it would help. I was in a fair state of shock at the time.

Thanks for your support though annO dyne. you help put some fire back in my belly. As you say, it's not all my fault. It's a combined effort, a joint mistake.

Who knows, my p plater might keep a blog, too, in which she details the horrors of the day when she ran into a crazy lady who was not looking at where she was going.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for directions to the Brian Eno quote, Art. I've checked out the website. It sounds terrific. I may try to get myself a hold of these cards.

These words of wisdom are as powerful as Eno's music.

Jim Murdoch said...

No, I don’t define things as sinful anymore but I can’t shake off what I was taught either. I was very much the academic when it came to religion and, on the whole, the Bible is pretty good at explaining itself. If you ask most Christians why Christ died they’ll say, “He died for us,” but they don’t really understand what that signifies. What I struggle with was the fact that the ransom was paid the moment he, a perfect man, died or, if you want to be petty, once he had ascended and could present the value of that sacrifice to God – so why have we had to endure another 2000 years of the effects of Adamic sin?

Guilt is a good thing in just the same way a pain is a good thing. Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong and you need to fix it. Guilt also comes after the fact. I find though that it’s nowhere near as reliable as pain. The reason for that is because we’ve become very fuzzy on what we should or should not feel guilty about. We also mix up guilt, shame and embarrassment. Nakedness is a good example. Most kids relish being free of clothes as long as they’re warm enough. As adults we find it hard to connect with the pleasure of being undressed. As long as no one’s around to see us we might not feel embarrassed that we don’t inhabit the perfect body but why on earth should we feel guilty for enjoying being naked? No one else is involved. I think that’s because a lot of us struggle with pleasure, pleasure in oneself, because that’s focusing on the self, is selfish, not selfless, and that’s the root from which all sin derives.

I think this is why religion irritates me so much, especially one like the Catholic Church, which likes to complicate things, to keep its members in a confused state dependent on their priests for insight. Judaism isn’t any better with all its petty rules. I don’t know much about eastern religions but I don’t have much time for how their leaders interpret their writings let’s put it that way.

Reya Mellicker said...

Modern medicine is just weird. So sorry about your knee! Hope you're soon on the mend.

In Hebrew the word "sin" means "miss the mark." I always liked that definition a lot more than the Christian interpretation!

Take good care.

Ruth said...

I always feel privileged to read what you write, to peer into your mind.

I have not read all your comments here, I'll bet it's fascinating reading. I wish I had time.

It seems incredibly insensitive of your doctor to say what he did. Unprofessional at the very least. Even if you were to accept and like comments like that, I would question his ability to be objective. What is he thinking about me while he looks at my film? What about when he touches me? Eww, gives me the creeps. On the other hand, it may just be an open sense of humor.

I grew up in a Baptist church with a minister father. I still feel guilt about many things. But I've grown out of feeling that about many others, for which I am very grateful. I think it's interesting to maintain decency in the context of society, yet freedom within ourselves, and the mingling of the two in the most meaningful ways possible.

Niamh B said...

Some people have a knack for saying the weirdest things, in quite innappropriate circumstances!
Glad it made you muse though, as always your post was interesting and thought provoking

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

So sorry about your broken leg - it sounds painful. It also sounds like your trip to the doctor and the doctor himself are good material for future writing projects.

I hope you heal quickly.

Marja said...

oh dear elizabeth That leg is really bugging you. A big hug for you.
Again these Catholic sins sound a bit pre historic to me. Here in NZ
they are also more conservative than in Holland. I tried the catholic church ones here in NZ. My kids were still small. The children were taken to another room to do some colouring in.
They were thaught that hell was the place they went when they were wrong.
That was the last time I went there.
Oh and I love psychologie. I did a bit of child and adolescent psychologie as I worked with kids
and learned a bit about all these different teachings. I liked Jung very much. I also love the physiologie of behaviour, the brain stuff. Very interesting
Now you take care and enjoy the sun. We had a few beautiful days here. So hopefully in AUstralia it is getting better as well

Kass said...

If the activity in your mind and the resultant increased blood and lymph circulation could be directly routed to your leg, you'd be healed in a week.

You are so fascinating. Short cuts, sins, religion, dreams, inappropriate comments from a Dr. - great reading.

Elisabeth said...

My husband and a friend have a shared exchange every Easter time. Both are lapsed Catholics.

My husband asks the question: Why do we call that day good on which Jesus Christ died?

And the answer, care of a rote learned Cathechism:

We call that day good on which Jesus Christ died because his death has showed us how much he loved us and given us so many blessings.

That's the sort of stuff we learned, parrot fashion beginning, with the question:
Who made the world?
God made the world.
Who made Heaven and Hell?
God made Heaven and Hell.

Fairly basic stuff.

I share your frustrations with the confusion we suffer as adults having taken in this stuff- holus bolus - as kids.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

'Miss the mark' is a good way of describing these things called sins, Reya.

It seems a far more benign view of the mistakes we all make from time to time, whether intentionally or not.

Thanks, Reya.

Elisabeth said...

I wondered how people might respond to the surgeon's words, Ruth.

Certainly out of context they sound odd, but I think he meant no harm.

He perhaps thought he was in a therapy session where everything is open to interpretation. It was intended as a joke.

I don't hold it against him. To me it's one of his least troublesome aspects.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Niamh. Like Ruth you seem to have found the surgeon's words a puzzle.

Perhaps it's the way I wrote about them here. At the time they did not seem so extraordinary. It was only in retrospect, when, as you say, I mused over our time together.

Elisabeth said...

You're right, Jane, this broken leg gives me heaps to write about. It is the one great consolation.

But there must be easier and less painful ways to gather together material for writing.

Thanks, Jane.

Elisabeth said...

Our weather is on the improve, too, Marja.

My mother has long told me that Holland is far more advanced as regards its ethics and attitudes to sin, sex, guilt and religion.

I can believe it, though in the scheme of things my mother is deeply conservative.

As you say, psychology has its fascinations.

Thanks, Marja.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Kass.

You'd know all about this stuff-guilt religion, ageing bodies etc.

I do believe the broken leg is healing well. The test will come next Tuesday when I see the surgeon again and hopefully get to bend my knee for the first time at a 15 degree angle.

We'll see then how the broke bone holds out and also how creaky my knee must now be, given I haven't bent it for nearly four weeks now.

Thanks, Kass. It's always lovely to hear from you.

Art Durkee said...

But there must be easier and less painful ways to gather together material for writing.

Well, I do agree with that.

At the same time, to a writer, everything is fodder. All experiences, good or bad, go into the work, one way or another. Everything we experience, even if it sucks, is material for art-making. That's of course why I say that art-making is the best revenge.

Marylinn Kelly said...

If good wishes have any influence on the outcome, your healing should be record-setting. Those among us given to thinking even in the midst of other activities are really caught with imposed stillness. I'd say, as unlikely as it may seem, this injury has only enhanced your writing, thus making it a gift, by some definitions. Hoping for very good news from your doctor. Marylinn

Phoenix said...

I am more distrustful of medicine than I am of religion because at least religion will say out loud that it is a religion - whereas medicine, which is quickly becoming a religion to many, still won't admit that the doctors and surgeons and specialists want obedience without question; want the full and complete faith of each and every worshiper to be laid down at the feet of the medical gods. This while there are more than 100,000 medical mistakes a year, mostly due to what your surgeon suffers from, an absolute disinterest in people.

Religions suffer from a disinterest in people too. I wonder which empire will topple first.

PS In case no one thought to tell you... you're not being punished for jaywalking by God, the universe, the Cosmic Irony, or Fate. The only one who punishes us is ourselves.

R.H. said...

The medical profession is dangerous, always in conflict with the law. Laws had to be made to restrain it, or there'd be people with dog's heads by now. Medical science doesn't care for human welfare in the long run, what its grey-haired schoolboys do care about is making a name for themselves. Psychiatry -a profession not known for its common sense- is even worse. It has the most vain, arrogant, tyrants you'll find anywhere. And jealous? oh my goodness! all wanting a prize. Chronic schizophrenics given up on become lab rats, shoved briefly from one psychiatrist to another, for personal study, research. Once they've got hold of these poor bastards they never let go.

These medics, school boy scientists, full of hubris, parade like God and that's all.
God is interested in everyone, the compassionate and the venal, which is why some need to watch out.

iODyne said...

R.H. : medical doctors are excellent for sutures and splints, and prescribing the blessed medication that Fr. Bob cannot.

You sound like some of the 'God will fix it' Christian Scientists I know.

May you never see the waiting room at Casualty on a Saturday night (as I have been quite glad to), the shining light over their door leading the Thre Wise Ambos as if to Bethlehem).

Elisabeth said...

As you say everything is fodder to a writer, Art, and I have certainly been milking this experience for what its worth.

As far as my writing is concerned it has been a god event. I have been able to write everyday, when normally I enjoy get to write every second day if I'm lucky.

Thanks again, Art.

Elisabeth said...

Marylinn, that's a lovely way to put it, my 'enforced stillness' and yes, I believe my leg is healing. The good wishes help a great deal as does the opportunity to write.

Many times I have rejoiced at the fact that I occupy this small space within the blogosphere, where I can share my thoughts and experiences with others who reciprocate in kind. It as been such an honour.

Thanks, Marylinn

Elisabeth said...

Phoenix, I agree we tend to punish ourselves, sometimes far worse than others might, but I have also been on the receiving end of certain punishment meted out by others in unusual circumstances, which I still believe I do not deserve.

That said, I can be my worst critic.

As for medicine as the 'new religion', I'm inclined to agree with you. It comes perhaps of the power, privilege and prestige associated with a profession that has become essential for our survival.

Such strong power bases can easily become corrupted especially when certain members of said profession begin to believe that they are beyond mistake or reproach.

Thanks, Phoenix.

Elisabeth said...

Gosh, RH, it sounds as though you have quite a beef with the medical profession, psychiatrists in particular.

I can understand this full well. I, too, have had my share of distaste for some of those in the medical profession, particularly the arrogant ones from the so-called 'old school', but I also know some decent doctors and psychiatrists.

It's probably more meaningful therefore not to generalise but to offer explicit examples that tell the story about certain abuses by certain individuals that give the profession a bad name.

Thanks, Robert.

Elisabeth said...

Gosh, RH, it sounds as though you have quite a beef with the medical profession, psychiatrists in particular.

I can understand this full well. I, too, have had my share of distaste for some of those in the medical profession, particularly the arrogant ones from the so-called 'old school', but I also know some decent doctors and psychiatrists.

It's probably more meaningful therefore not to generalise but to offer explicit examples that tell the story about certain abuses by certain individuals that give the profession a bad name.

Thanks, Robert.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Helena of the Stacks, for offering Robert a restraining presence.

I am grateful for the emergency department that came to my rescue the night I broke my leg, despite the horrors of my hospital stay.

That said, I think things can be improved but that's no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Sorry for the dreadful cliche, here.


Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Your fracture is sure putting pressure on your conscience. Too much reflecting because of inactivity? I'm not sure why a priest can be given the power to make some sins less. I believe that God is most forgiving and that's where the forgiveness is most logical. As for the surgeon's rush, that's not surprising. He's seen a lot of mending bones and I guess you are just another one on the mend. That's actually good. You don't want complications. I've had three leg and one wrist fracture. It's a trying time but the outcome is usually a good one so rest a bit more because the busy holiday season is on ti's way.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Being not-a-Catholic, I didn't know there were two types of sin. Interesting.

I hope your leg is fixed soon.

Elisabeth said...

Too much inactivity has perhaps made me more reflective, KleinsteMotte. Certainly I've been dreaming more, or at least remembering them.

As for religion, sin and medicine the power to absolve and to heal, they can sometimes get muddled up in my head, especially when I think about them from my childhood memory and when I start to think about them from my many adult perspectives.

Thanks, KleinsteMotte.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Rachel.

There's a third form of sin, which I only mentioned if at all, obliquely.

You may have heard of it - original sin, the one we are born with, the one that needs Baptism for removal.

If we don't get baptised we're stuck with it for life. It's the legacy of Adam and Eve.

I find original sin a worry, because it suggests only those who are baptised can get to heaven, that is as long as they don't get into too many venial or any mortal sins before they die, or at least get all of their sins them absolved.

The place for babies who die and who miss out on baptism, the innocent ones, is called Limbo. I've written about Limbo elsewhere in an earlier post. It's the place that is as good as Heaven, only in Limbo you don't get to see God.

Thanks Rachel.

R.H. said...

Years ago Malcolm Muggeridge said heart transplants were pioneered in South Africa because the lives of black people there were cheap. I don't know if he was right but it caused a lot of yelling. In countries like India today you can raise some cash by selling one of your kidneys, getting it taken from your body with the blessing of medical authorities. It's a common practice.
In general, scientists tinkering away in labs bothers me, the atomic bomb experiment wiped out 100,000 people, nuclear versions can wipe us all out.

Psychiatrists seem normal but they're hard as nails. Each have a special interest they want to toy with, eg: personal insight, aggression and so on, in schizophrenics. Government patients become lab rats, shoved from one doc to another. Social workers get to prod them as well, everyone gets a go. Chronic cases like my pal Geoff become exhibits, that's all, used for training.
I write letters for Geoff and give him support. His doctors don't like it. They've even hinted to me that they could ban me from seeing him, thus ending a friendship of 20 years.

He is free, lives in his own home, but has lost ALL HUMAN RIGHTS.

I've got details and I've got proof, but here isn't the place for it all.

Meanwhile I think the "Ambo" who sexually assaulted a woman patient in the back of an ambulance recently wasn't awfully "Wise".

Read the papers, listen to the news.

Elisabeth said...

You have a way of honing in on some of the worst aspects of people and professional groups, RH.

I imagine there is some truth in what you say and particularly when you refer to some of individuals you know, like your friend, Geoff.

I don't think the system is designed with compassion in mind. I think the system is designed for convenience by bureaucrats who lose touch with normal human needs.

Individuals within can be helpful and not so helpful depending on who they are and how they use the system or see themselves within it, but in the end however well intentioned some might be, they cannot overcome the obstacles that get in the way of fair and just treatment for all.

I once did an 'observation placement' in a psychiatric hospital, Robert. My heart bled the whole time for the helplessness of the inmates and for the implicit assumptions that staff made about 'us versus them', as if we re not in tis together.

I don't think they realised how locked into old systems from the Victorian era they were. Staff thought they were progressive. I did not.

It's usually easier to be the one in the position of power. Thanks, Robert.