Psychotherapy, A Love Story

IMG_6481For Jessica Mesman Griffith

A creature that hides and “withdraws into its shell,” is preparing a “way out.” This is true of the entire scale of metaphors, from the resurrection of a man in his grave, to the sudden outburst of one who has long been silent. If we remain at the heart of the image under consideration, we have the impression that, by staying in the motionlessness of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds, of being. 
Gaston BachelardThe Poetics of Space

When I first started to see my therapist—now fifteen years ago—her office was in the former caretaker’s cottage in back of what had once been a private mansion off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. The little two-story house, its exterior a mix of Tudor and Richardson Romanesque, sat in a formal garden with a flagstone terrace and fountain, like something from a storybook. [Read more…]

Fun with Circumcision

Newborn BabyEvery year, when a specific national obstetrics and gynecology conference (or is it pediatrics?) comes to the Washington Convention Center, the traffic is snarled for blocks along New York Avenue, and the sidewalks thronged thickly with pedestrians. Its scale is such that it seems, in this one local’s perspective, to be outranked by the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—only without the haze of whirling blue lights from cruisers and snipers atop the roofs nearby.

I don’t have to drive by it now, but many were the days that my car inched forward infinitesimally, as I tried not to swear under my breath. And always across the street from the convention center, on the sidewalk in front of the old Carnegie Library, were a clutch of protesters holding signs bearing the legend, “Circumcision Decreases Sensation!”

And at those moments, I was immediately thankful that my children—younger then—were not in the car and I did not have to explain the terms of the debate. Frankly, before that I hadn’t even known there was a debate. [Read more…]

A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]

The Abandoned, Broken, and Burned

1950s DishwasherBy the time you read this, inshallah, we will have the new dishwasher purchased and installed in our kitchen.

I’m not holding my breath. It’s been this long, so it is easy to envision a horizon of expectations that continues to recede into the distance a few more weeks or months.

“Oh, come on,” my brother said to me a while back, “what is a dishwasher? $500? $1000? Just buy the thing.” It’s not that we didn’t have $500 lying around to spend—it’s just that there are so many other expenses— private school tuition, church donations, the remainder of our 2014 taxes—to cover, and it is always well to have a little cushion lying around in case of emergencies. (Our cushion is pretty little.)

We are well-paid, middle-class professionals (upper middle class if you look at the average household income for most Americans, though we actually feel pretty working class in our expensive coastal metropolitan area where two twenty-seven-year-old lawyers can easily clear $450,000 a year—First World, problems etc., etc).

So $500-1,000, in our house, is kind of a big deal. [Read more…]

Kolam: The Beauty of Uselessness

Kolam, IndiaThis one’s for Carin Ruff, and by way of answering my niece Kate’s question.

A little more than twenty years ago, I spent a summer traveling around India under the auspices of the Fulbright-Hays program, a summer fellowship grant program for teachers. Over the course of about six weeks, we traveled to some twelve cities, from the very feet of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.

India seems far nearer now than it was then; when our group visited, the country was in the final days of an old-style Socialist economy, and it was before the boom in the country’s tech sector—which had already started—had achieved a generalized reputation abroad.

It was before India became the home of the world’s customer service call centers, and before the ubiquity of the “mobile phone” revolution: I recall a hot afternoon in Chennai (which was then still called Madras) when I had to walk three blocks to a telephone office and pay in cash to wait for an operator to connect me to an international trunk line.

On that trip, I saw the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, and the erotic temples of Khajuraho—the whole UNESCO package. But what I remember more vividly, and fondly, are the little things: the reusable cups given out by the “air hostesses” on Indian Airlines and the dogs that waited in front of sidewalk shrines where shirtless Brahmin priests performed puja— acts of reverence to the divine—as though they, the dogs, were praying. [Read more…]


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