I don’t know why davening (praying) makes me cry at the moment, but it does. Mainly Shacharit (morning prayers) for some reason. It’s not from intense prayer, as I have zero kavannah (concentration), I just put on tefillin and rush through the two main prayers for ten minutes (out of about thirty) right before the (halakhic) midday deadline. But I feel like crying by the time I’m finished, if not earlier, and I do.
Lately I’ve been finding myself getting caught up reading political stuff online and ending up depressed and sometimes angry. I guess a lot of people feel the news makes them depressed and angry at the moment. When I’m depressed, I always fluctuate between wanting to run away from the news because it’s too depressing and feeling I should at least be informed of what’s happening. That was even before the huge events of the last year, which make me feel like a snowflake caught in an avalanche. I feel I should know what’s happening, but I don’t feel able to change anything, particularly events abroad. I’m not even always sure how I want to change things. My politics, as I may have mentioned, are slightly unconventional; I don’t really want to go into it, but I’m in a liminal zone between parties. On some issues I’m more left-wing and on some I’m more right-wing and on some I don’t really fit anywhere. So I can’t (for instance) join a party or protest movement as some of my friends have done to cope with their feelings of disempowerment because none is a good fit for me. In any case, I hate the adversarial nature of politics. My instinct is for dialogue, compromise and cooperation, values currently in short supply on all sides.
I did manage to go for a jog, although I think I walked most of the last half mile. My pace was very poor, but I was glad to get out. I was less glad to discover that jogging seems to make me want to cry too, although I didn’t actually cry. I did shed a tear when eating lunch and reading Daniel Deronda, though, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book. It just happened.
I have heard from both the rabbis I asked about the OCD worry, and it was indeed OCD. I feel a bit bad about having given in to the OCD, although I am bolstered slightly by the knowledge that I have other OCD worries that I have recognized as such and not asked about, even though sometimes they concern me.
I tried making a vegetable curry, but worrying about insects in the cauliflower sent me down the path towards OCD anxiety and despair. Given the difficulty of checking for non-kosher insects, I’m wondering whether I should keep eating cauliflower, or at least buy the expensive pre-checked type. There is no halakhic standard for checking vegetables for insects. My rabbi mentor suggested finding a website of guidelines to follow, but unfortunately none of them are comprehensive, which means I can’t follow just one of them, and they do sometimes contradict each other as to the best method of checking. For example, with cauliflower, at one extreme one site says it is better to avoid it entirely because it is so hard to check and so often infested; at the other extreme, one site says just break off the florets, examine and rinse, with other sites offering suggestions with intermediate levels of difficulty. The real problem is that Mum cooks broccoli and/or cauliflower as the main vegetables (alongside potatoes) every Shabbat and doesn’t follow even the most lenient option; my rabbi mentor said to just surreptitiously look at the food before eating it to avoid an argument (shalom bayit) on the grounds that these vegetables are usually either fine or completely infested, in which case Mum would have noticed when cooking it, but I worry if that is too lenient. Or do I just feel I’m not making life difficult enough for myself? Or am I worried about an avoidable argument with Mum? It’s very hard to tell when something that should be a straightforward practical/halakhic decision becomes an interpersonal relationship one. I realized this is why I haven’t made a vegetable curry for months. I need to find some substitute for the cauliflower. I guess I could just remove it and increase the amount of potato, carrot and beans (I don’t really want to increase the onion). At least insects can’t treif up my pots if one gets through, it’s just another big sin for me. It’s also a bit disgusting. I guess this must sound quite crazy to my non-Jewish readers, but I did find one definite insect today (it was moving) and a couple of possibles.
There’s an exercise you can do if you have low self-esteem and/or obsessive (OCD) thoughts of being sinful, where you imagine a scale with the most righteous person you can think of at one end and the most wicked at the other and place various people you know in between and then you try to place yourself on there. You’re supposed to see that you’re an OK person. Whenever I try this, I start out somewhere in the middle and slowly drift towards the Hitler end of the scale, usually ending up saying, “Well, I would be as evil as Hitler or at least as Jack the Ripper, if I had the same opportunities and experiences that they had.” I felt like that today, trying to respond to a friend who emailed to say that God loves me. I don’t feel that God could love someone as bad as me. I didn’t email back, because it sounded melodramatic, but then again I know she’s reading this, so I guess I’m still being melodramatic. Maybe I’m not as bad as Hitler, but I still feel I’m pretty bad, within the confines of normal human badness.
There’s a prominent Charedi religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific of ‘rabbi’) who was arrested for sexual assault a few months ago. He admitted rape both in court and privately to his disciples and said he deserved to be executed for what he had done. But he also told his followers that he was allowing himself to be framed as a suffering he has taken on himself to help the Jewish people, so a lot of his disciples still insist he is a great, saintly man. If I think of him, I feel revulsion and disgust, but after a few seconds, I feel maybe I’m nearly that bad. I would never rape someone (God forbid), but I feel attracted to women who I’m not in a relationship with, which feels nearly as bad (certainly some feminist literature I’ve encountered would say it’s as bad). And I have never told a lie as big as his claim to be innocent and saintly, but I feel I let people believe I’m a better person than I really am, which is the same kind of thing. This seems silly written down, but it is how I feel when I think about him, which I have been doing a lot recently, I guess because it upsets me (I mean, I think about it because there’s a part of my mind that wants to upset myself).
My flat is my landlords’ garage converted into a flat and the rear door opens into their garden. I had it open today, because the flat is poorly ventilated and that’s the best way to ventilate it when it’s hot and especially when I’m cooking. One of my landlord’s children and his brother or friend discovered me for the first time. I clearly posed a philosophical problem for the primary school-age mind, inasmuch as he discovered, from asking me, that I’m neither a daddy nor a teenager and I don’t live with my Mummy. This clearly exhausted all the lifestyle options that he could think of (his family is also frum). I was actually amused by the incident (maybe my Mum and my aunt are right that I’m good with children. I certainly find it easier to talk to pre-teen children I don’t know well than to adults I don’t know well), but it did make me feel that I’m in a very anomalous position, being a frum single thirtysomething man living alone.
Oh well, the curry is now cooked, although I need to cook some rice. I know there are positives to focus on today: jogging, cooking, shopping for a belated engagement present for my sister without getting too depressed and hopefully I will manage a bit of Torah study before bed, but part of me wants to count on the failures: oversleeping, missing most of Shacharit again, missing shul yet again, the OCD worry that my landlords’ son might have got something in my microwave’s air vents when he put something down on it while he was standing in my doorway (for lack of space, the microwave sits on a little table in the doorway, which is not ideal)… I must try to focus on the positives.