JEALOUSY: GOOD FOR GOD, BAD FOR NEIGHBORS

We were in the car driving home and I was trying to remember all ten of the commandments. No special reason. I just thought I should know them, what with all the fuss about them all over our landscape. In theory at least, they are the basis of law. So how come I don’t know them off the top of my head?

After dredging up seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” sections which contains a lot of run-on sentences any of which could be interpreted as two or even three commandments but I suppose for convenience have been lumped into one, I was lost. I needed Google.

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I asked Garry if he knew the ten commandments. He replied, with irritation, he had to pay attention to traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for one slow driver in front of us but I suppose Garry needed a lot of self-control to not ram him. I don’t think there’s a commandment pertaining to slow drivers, but feel free to add one.

Finally, Garry admitted he didn’t know all of them either, at least not in order.

“A sad state of affairs,” I point out, “When two educated souls such as we cannot recite the ten commandments.”

“There’s a lot of stuff about not making idols and coveting.”

“Yeah, and taking one day off each week.”

When I got home, I looked them up.

It turns out there are quite a few “how to behave to God” commandments. Not all Christians — much less Jews — divide them up the same way. You can count as many as fifteen (à la Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I”) or as few as eight. It depends on how you look at them and punctuate the sentences.

Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestant sects, plus a second list containing my streamlined, easy-to-remember set.

Note: This sequence was removed from the film in Israel when I lived there. The Rabbis had no sense of humor.

Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Modernization is all the rage, so here’s my take on them. Not etched in stone. For the sake of today’s prompt, jealousy is mentioned once in the second commandment where it is good because it’s the Lord’s prerogative. In the tenth, it’s covetousness which is not good because jealousy is good for God, but not for us.

A Streamlined Top Ten

  1. I’m God, the One and Only. Don’t forget it, or me.
  2. Idols are O-U-T.
  3. Don’t swear using my name. Maybe don’t swear at all.
  4. Take a break on the seventh day of your week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants, and animals. No work. Got that?
  5. Respect your parents. Take care of them.
  6. Don’t murder anyone.
  7. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff. You’ve got your own.

I’m just here to help.

A WAR AGAINST WOMEN

A good friend in Texas who used to live here in New England is fighting a lonely battle in her town for the right of women to retain control over their bodies. Texas is the front line of the war against women, a war I thought we’d won years ago with Roe V. Wade and the end of (formal, official) discrimination against women in the workplace.

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She and I remember the bad old days. We were there together. The days of backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion, threw themselves off bridges rather than bear an unwanted child. Or tried to abort themselves, with lethal results.

Despite self-righteous conservative braying, backlash and brainwashing, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life.

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Women have (and always have had) abortions for all kinds of reasons including fear for their health, welfare of existing children, and of course, economics, AKA survival.

While birth control isn’t 100% reliable, the men trying to stop women’s access to abortion are also determined to prevent us from getting effective birth control. If there is any logic to this, I fail to see it.

What’s the real point?

It has nothing to do with life or the right to be born. It’s about power. About putting women in their place so men can regain the control they have lost. Back to the kitchen for us, barefoot and pregnant. If men had babies, you can be sure this would not be happening.

I had an abortion that wasn’t an abortion, thus retaining plausible deniability.

My husband was in the hospital. He had cancer. It was so early in the pregnancy — less than 4 weeks — tests were negative, so technically, I couldn’t have an abortion. But I knew.

It was the worst time to discover myself pregnant. I didn’t know if my husband would live. (He didn’t live long.) We were financially maxed out. I had gotten into a highly competitive master’s program — more than 2000 applications for a couple of dozen spots — and I would not be able to accept. I looked at my life and thought: “I don’t need more education. I need a job.” No matter how I tried to fit the pieces together, a baby was not in the picture.

I had a “menstrual extraction” which was what you got when the test read negative but you knew otherwise. It was done in a doctor’s office. Without anesthesia. That’s a lot of pain, during which you dare not move lest a blade slip and do some serious, permanent damage.

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So many women my age went through similar or worse experiences. Were we happy about it? No, but we did what we felt was best, not just for us but for everyone affected.

Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What happens to one woman happens to her entire circle — family and friends. We were adult women. We had the right and the obligation to decide what happens to our bodies and our lives.

I maintain my long-standing position on this matter. Unless you are a woman, your opinion is worthless. I do not care what they preach in your church. Until you walk in my shoes, live in my body, you know nothing.

Why am I weighing in on this? The it-wasn’t-really-an-abortion was more 40 years ago. No one knew it happened until now. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m sorry it happened, but I believed I was doing the right thing. I still believe it.

How ironic that women are again facing the specter of those terrifying, desperate days. The nightmare of the back room and the coat hanger is looming. The gains in personal freedom women won are at risk. If we don’t speak out and stand together, we will lose it. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. The opposition is relentless.

I am past child-bearing age. It’s about all women. Whether or not we have the right to decide for ourselves what is done to us. If ever there was a right to life involved, how about our right to have a decent life, to bear the number of children they want and not be managed by men whose stake in the issue is tangential? How about that?

No one wants an abortion. But sometimes, you need one.

AT THE DEEP END OF THE JURY POOL

I’ve been called to jury duty often. Jury duty is the price you pay for voting because potential jurors are chosen from voter registrations lists. I’m sure they call us in alphabetical order.

Our last name begins with “A.” Garry and I were called up two or three times a year for more than a decade until one day I called and said “Hey, enough!” After that, they slowed down to every other year. I’m pretty sure there’s an outstanding jury summons for me somewhere that I never answered. I was in the hospital trying not to die. Oops. It’s just possible I’m a wanted criminal. I assume they’ll get back to me on that.

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They called Garry, but never let him serve. Reporters are like cops. They’ve seen too much. Garry knew the judges, the D.A., the lawyers. And the criminals.

They knew Garry, too and they knew he knew stuff they preferred he not know. So, no matter how many times they called him, he was in and out in an hour. Maximum two.

I was a better pick. No connection to law enforcement. No lawyers, law suits, or weird political opinions.  That I was a free lancer who was going to lose my shirt if I couldn’t work did not matter to anyone except me. I went in, sat around. No trial needed me, so I went home. Done, until next time.

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Until one day, I got assigned to a trial. I had instant images of a long criminal trial. Being sequestered for weeks in some fleabag motel. Losing my clients. Losing my house. I was a less than enthusiastic juror, but when duty calls, you might as well go quietly. Unless you want to wind up on the other side of the courtroom. Besides, they have officers with guns stationed at the exits.

It was a minor civil case. One woman hit another at an intersection. Woman A claimed Woman B was jumping the light. Woman B said she had mistakenly thought it was a cross street.

There was no evidence. She said, she said. I thought both of them were lying. It was a matter of who you believed less. Eleven of my fellow jurors were ready to acquit. I thought we should at least talk about it. But, they wanted to go home and pointed out everyone knows the intersection isn’t a through street (I didn’t).

I caved. Because there was nothing except a small amount of money at stake. Peer pressure — eleven people who want to go home which you are preventing — gets intense and ugly quickly.

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That was more than 20 years. Tonight, we watched “Twelve Angry Men.” That’s the movie (1957) in which Henry Fonda forces eleven of his peers to reconsider the evidence and fully grasp the concept of reasonable doubt. It’s a great movie which has aged well. Pretty much the way I remember the experience, except we had air-conditioning, sort of.

It did leave me wondering and not for the first time. How many verdicts are based on jurors who just want to go home? How many people are convicted — or acquitted — because the jury was bored to tears and couldn’t stand one more minute of evidence? How many jurors are bullied into a verdict with which they disagree because they are threatened — emotionally or physically?

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There are no statistics on this and by definition, there won’t ever be any. No one, given the criminal liability and potential physical danger, is going to admit to it. But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Next time a jury comes in with some absurd (to you) verdict, consider the possibility that at least some of them didn’t freely agree.

I’m sure it happens. It happened to me.

IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I have an equal number of religious and non-religious (and non- traditional) friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

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I dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma categorizes everything, puts it all in boxes.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Since no one can prove the existence or non-existence of god, we’d be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it. If you believe, good for you. Just let everyone believe what he or she wishes. Maybe if we let others do their thing, they will be let us be crazy in our own way.

It has to start somewhere.

I deeply believe in everyone’s right to do their own thing. It’s the last vestige of my optimism, my hope for humanity. The last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate big ideas, complicated concepts, but when the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home, each to our own beliefs.

IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

And here is my original entry on this prompt. Which, as it turns out, is still pretty funny and as obnoxious as the first time I wrote it.

I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

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That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

KILLING YOU, KILLING ME

An episode of Law and Order got me thinking. “Under what circumstances might I commit murder — or kill someone — for any reason?”

We all say stuff. “I’m going to kill you,” doesn’t mean you are actually planning a murder. You are blowing off steam, saying “I’m so angry, I’ve run out of words to express it.” Garry pointed out that television and movies would be pretty dull if everyone behaved sensibly.

blood evidenceWe yell at each other. Sometimes there’s a slammed door and I occasionally rattle the pots and pans, but we don’t throw things. Don’t break things. Don’t kick the dogs or get in the car and drive like crazy people. We don’t binge drink or comfort ourselves with drugs.

We get angry with each other, though. We think about breaking a window. Throwing a piece of crockery. Then reconsider. Having that picture window replaced would cost a bundle. Never mind.

Under no circumstances do you hurt your pets.

In short, we are rational. We are never so angry we don’t consider the consequences of behavior.

I think most people have a hard-wired inhibition against killing people. If we didn’t, the world would be a much worse place than it already is. You have to train soldiers to kill. Young men won’t (normally) kill other young men unless you break down their inhibitions against killing. That’s what boot camp is about, right?

Garry said something smart, reminding me of one of many reasons we’re together. He said “That’s why it’s good we have things like Facebook. People can go there to rant, rage, carry on. No knives, guns, bats. No corpses. Angry people vent. No one really gets hurt. Like the guys on the sports radio stations who call in screaming about the Red Sox. They’re just letting off steam. It’s just as well there are safe places for them to do it.”

Maybe it’s because Garry has seen so much violence and the results of violence. It was part of his job. Not a part he liked, but something he had to deal with to be a reporter. I couldn’t have done it.

As to my original question, what would it take to make me kill another person? I don’t know. Would I kill to protect my life style or for money — even a great deal of money? I doubt it.

Would I kill to protect someone? I’d want to, but could I? I’m not sure I could kill to protect myself. Many people can’t and lose their own lives because they hesitate. Television, fiction, and mythology notwithstanding, most people’s instinct is to not kill.

Inconvenient, but it may be the saving grace of the human race.

THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

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Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.