Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Freedom and Fasting

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose,
And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free,--Kris Kristoferson and Fred Foster, "Me and Bobby McGee"

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.
Thomas Hobbes 

The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.
John Stuart Mill 


Today, September 26 2012 is another Wednesday, just like the other 52 Wednesdays of the year.

But to those of the Jewish religion, it is also Yom HaKippurim, the day that god will seal everyone in the world's judgement.  And so, for the last month most Jews have been trying to curb their iniquitious behaviors for a change--trying to go from being total assholes to everyone to simply being a bit of a dick.  Also, there's a little game they play where they go up to everyone and ask "do you forgive me for anything I've done to you?"  Of course, it's just a formality, few ever really find something they need to ask forgiveness for, and then when it's over, back to being total douchebags--just like yesterday.

This will be the 9th year of my existence that I have not attempted atoning for my sins on this lovely Autumn day.  At first, I used to report to work just like it was a regular weekday, but I would still fast.  But then, about 6 years ago, I said fuck it and began treating it like it was every other day of the year.  Sometimes I'd make extra sure to eat a ham sandwich, take a long hot bath, or engorge in some delectables just to spite the Invisible Man in the Sky I No Longer Believe In.

However, tomorrow I will wake up and go to work just like any other normal day.

So in honor of said freedom, I would like to flash back to the Summer of 2002, when this journey really began.

During this time, I was at a first of many crossroads in my life.  I had dropped out of Yeshiva University,  did a semester in Brooklyn College while working part time, and then moved back into Washington Heights and transferred to City College (which I would eventually graduate).

But first, while I was still figuring things out, I moved into a small 2 bedroom apartment with some old buddies of mine from Yeshiva University.  I think there was like 4 of us camping out in there on average.  It was a nice setup.  I worked maybe twice a week.  The rest of the summer, I smoked plenty of weed, drank, played video games, listened to music, and basically squandered my life.

But then the most sudden change of all.  The one that would change the course of my life forever.

It began on a Friday.  A Friday just like any other Friday in July.

Except this Friday, 2 of the friends I was sharing the apartment with (let's call them Gabe and Stu) were going to go to a movie.  They asked me if I wanted to come along.

Now let me be clear on where my religious observance was at the time.  I was dropping certain beliefs left and right.  I no longer prayed 3 times a day (possibly at all).  I still felt in place inside a synagogue, but I no longer was set about praying; praying was just something I did if I happened to be around people who were praying.  I also was starting to walk around without a yarmulke (I'll write more on that in another post).  In general I still wore the yarmulke, but mostly when I was in areas around other Jews.  

But the two big ones, Sabbath and Kosher I still kept.

But of course, during this tumultous period of my life, I was not only dropping observances left and right.  I was also seriously questioning God.  Much of it was anger at first.  Much of it was also irresponsibility.  But what I didn't have was a venue to actually explore being a heathen.

Until that night.

Naturally, Stu and Gabe had no way of knowing that they were opening Pandora's Box for me.  But they did.

We went to see Road to Perdition.  It was a nice movie.  We weren't a fan of the directing, but Tom Hanks was great.  Either way, it was a great alternative to Shabbos Koidesh!

We then went to The Rodeo Bar & Grill, a novelty faux-Honky Tonk in NYC.  Now at that time I was bar hopping a-plenty.  There was nothing really strange about the experience of going here.  A small part of me felt the Chimes of Freedom.  But the rest of me shrugged it off and said that it was just another day I'm allowed to go bar hopping!

There was an Elvis impersonator playing that night.  Gabe was a huge fan of Elvis (Rockabilly in general).  It was fun.  The three of us drank, chain-smoked, and enjoyed the music.  Oh yeah, did I mention that this was back in a day when it was still legal to smoke in bars in NYC?  Tee hee hee.  Now that I've quit smoking, I don't mind.  But back then, it hit me pretty hard.

But the spree had just begun:

Gabe and I moved to the restaurant side of the venue.  Stu ditched us to bury himself in the corner of the bar to write some poetry on napkins (or something like that).  Gabe assured me that it's okay, it makes him happier when he does this.  So it was just the two of us, our beers, and plenty of cigarettes to smoke.

Gabe then ordered some food.  "Rattlesnake Bites", shrimp rolled in bacon and stuffed into a fried jalapeno pepper.  He then asked me if I wanted to try one.  I obliged.

And the crazy thing is that I actually enjoyed it!

I hear so many stories about people having trouble appreciating shellfish when they first try it.  Not me.  My reaction was more along the lines of "mmmm....where have you been all my life?"

I hate to sound crass, but I enjoyed my first time eating trayf more than I enjoyed my first time having sex.  I know, it's sad.  I definitely enjoyed it more than my first time getting high.  But the fact stands:  that night, I had my first trayf--the same night I first violated the Sabbath--and I never turned back.

No, this weekend lead to many more weekends of violating Sabbath and eating trayf.

The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for Sabbath--Mark 2:27

And so, this honorable Wednesday just like any other Wednesday, I will not be specially asking for anyone's forgiveness.  I will not be going out of my way to be a douche because I can either.

Because although I have the freedom to do so, I do not feel compelled to do so.

Just today, another person made the fallacy that my choosing to be an Atheist means I now am allowing myself to potentially rape, pillage, steal, and commit countless other atrocities that religious people are obviously above doing themselves. 

Now I don't want to get too deeply into this one just yet.  Oh trust me, I could more than triple the size of this post just devoted to this subject, but I'd like to posit one thing.


As Spidey's Uncle Ben very famously said, "with great power comes great responsibility.

Including the responsibility for being productive.

Including the responsibility for not being a douche.

The responsibility for making the world a better place.

For being a better person.

Being Righteous and true.

And I most certainly do not need some Invisible Man in the Sky Who I Know Longer Believe In to tell me how to be good or bad.

Or a so-called "Good Book" either.

All I need is to wake up tomorrow, breathe in the air, and live tomorrow like it's another day.