|Michael Koran's Psicorn
go to Prose and Cons
Copyright 2003 by Michael Koran
Since this play is about God and laughter let’s warm up with some jokes. The writer Isak Dineson said, “If you love God you’ve gotta love what God loves most. Which is . . . change and jokes.
What did the snail say riding on a turtle? One word answer. “Whoopee.”
What did the hypochondriac write on her gravestone? Again – a one word answer. “See?”
For our last warm up, I’d like to tell you a cautionary tale. It’s about how impossible it is to know what’s really going on. I can tell this story because I have been bar mitzvahed and baptized. The Pope tells the Jews that they have 3 days to leave Rome. The Jews don’t want to leave Rome. It’s a beautiful city. So they ask their most articulate Rabbi to go and convince the Pope to let the Jews stay. The Pope has heard how good this Rabbi is with words so he insists on a silent debate.
The Rabbi walks into Saint Peter’s and as soon as soon as he begins to speak the Cardinals realize he’s too good with words. They insist on a silent debate. The Rabbi nods in agreement. The Pope immediately raises three fingers. The Rabbi raises one. The Pope makes a circle around his head. The Rabbi points to the ground. The Pope takes out bread and wine. The Rabbi takes out an apple.
The Pope says, “You’re too smart for me. The Jews can stay. The Cardinals gather around the Pope to find out what happened. The Pope said, I raised three fingers to let him know that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And he raised one, reminding me that what is most important is the unity of humanity, the world and the cosmos. What happened next? I made a circle around my head reminding him that God is everywhere and he pointed to the ground, reminding me that without the earth to support us we wouldn’t be here. And what happened next? Well, I took out bread and wine to let him know that our God forgives all sins, and he took out an apple, reminding me that in spite of all forgiveness, humanity has been fundamentally flawed ever since Eve ate an apple in the Garden of Eden.
While this is going on the Jews gather around their Rabbi in order to understand what happened. The Rabbi says that when the Pope raised three fingers letting him know that that the Jews had three days to leave, he raised one, insisting that not one of us is leaving. When the Pope made a circle around his head saying we had to move beyond the suburbs, I pointed to the ground insisting that we are staying right here. And what happened next? I don’t know. He took out his lunch so I took out mine.
The poet Dante writes that there is an inaudible laughter in heaven that pervades everything.
The Bible is not what you usually look to for stand-up comedy. When you think of great biblical characters, you don’t usually start cracking up: Oh Moses! Or ha ha Job. And you might not remember from Sunday school-- and you might not have gone to Sunday school which would make it even harder to remember—the story of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son Isaac. “Isaac's” name in Hebrew literally means “He Will Laugh.” If we can find out how Isaac could laugh after almost being killed by Abraham, then we might be able to find this inaudible laughter that pervades everything.
So who’s Abraham? He was stuck in a fruitless marriage, no kids-- when he hears this voice from nowhere that says: Lech! God obviously speaks Hebrew. In English “lech” means “go!” If someone tells you in English to “go” it might feel painful, but “lech” ouch! And then it sounds even harsher.
The Voice’s next word is Lecha. “Ch!” “Ch!” “Lecha” means “you!”
A religious reformer said we’ve got to put the Christ back in Christmas and the “Ch” back in Chanukah. In Hebrew people don’t say “how are you.” They say, ma shlom cha. Or for a woman it’s ma schlom echk. No wonder they’re fighting everybody.
If you heard an invisible Voice command lech lecha would you go? Apparently this Voice has to sweeten the deal by giving Abraham an offer he can’t refuse.
Abraham is told “you’re going to be famous, a founder of nations, and father of peoples and you’re going to bless all families on earth.” What a stud! Who could say “No” to this. So Abraham wanders through the desert into the promised land.
But his wife, Sarah, continues to be barren. She’s his half-sister. You too might have trouble making kids with your half-sister.
But this is a very resourceful half-sister. She tells Abraham, “Why don’t you make a child with my Egyptian slave Hagar?”
And now the Bible becomes super-graphic. Abraham goes into Hagar. Not into her tent-- INTO Hagar. I’m not lying to you. And she conceives Ishmael, who will eventually be the father of all Muslims.
But family life can’t be this simple. Abraham then hears his guiding Voice say “I will give you a son from Sarah.” Abraham travels will Sarah, who is still so beautiful that he is afraid the neighboring Canaanite King will kill him and take her. So Abraham says, “she is my sister.” And the King takes her to be his wife.
Soon we read: God visits Sarah and does to her what he promised. And she gives birth to a son for Abraham. Who’s the father? If you have trouble with ambivalence in relationships this is the story for you.
This story calls me in my adult life to understand it, but I was only eight years old the first time I was moved to tell it. We’re going hiking in summer camp. The counselor lets me walk behind all the campers. I’m not comfortable being part of the crowd.
When we come to the place to make a campfire our counselor asks if anyone knows a scary story. I stretch my hand real high and he calls on me.
I warm-up the campers by asking “why is six afraid of seven? Because seven ate nine.
There is a mean Daddy, Abraham. God tells this Daddy: “Sacrifice the person you most love, your son Isaac. This Daddy then takes his son to a place where there is a campfire just like this one. And then the Daddy ties up his son. The Daddy puts his son on the firewood. I am not making this up. I learned it in Sunday school. And then this Daddy raises a knife over his son’s heart. At the very last moment, just when his knife is going to cut into his son’s heart—the Daddy hears an angel say, “Don’t strike the child. Don’t do anything bad to him.”
And the Daddy sees a lamb caught in bushes just like these. And the Daddy grabs the lamb and pow, pow, pow. And I pow, pow, pow the leg of the kid sitting next to me.] And there’s lamb chops for dinner.
The counselor takes me aside and says “Mikey, you can’t hit John.” John has one leg. After the tough kids in our bunk beat on me I would beat on John—calling him “one-legged John, one-legged John.” My counselor breathes in my face and says “Mikey, I’m ugly aren’t I.” He looks ugly to me, but I don’t say anything. “That’s right, Mikey. Just because I’m ugly doesn’t mean you can call me ‘ugly.’ It’s the same with John. You can’t call him one-legged John just because he has one-leg.”
I run away into the woods. The kids all start looking for me. I’m still the center of attention, even when I’m not around.
A deaf kid sees me. He makes lots of sounds—aya ah yah yah--but they don’t understand him. I’ve got to get farther away. I go to the road leading away from the camp. For some reason I think if I walk on the road long enough I could find my grandmother’s home. She works in a candy store where I can read all the comic books about super-heroes.
I start walking.
A few minutes later the director of the camp pulls up in a car besides me and invites me in. I join him and get to eat at the center table in the dining room with the director and his wife. They are so nice at this table. When someone asks for the salt they say, “please pass the salt.” Then they say “here you are” and then “thank you so much” and “and then your welcome” and “don’t mention it.” It’s fun to eat here. Not like home.
You know most anybody you’re close with has at least a little something about them you find difficult. The thing I find most difficult about my younger brother is that he exists. I just can’t stand it. My way of communicating my distaste for his existence is to sit on his arms and spit into his face. This is how I inspired my brother to be a psychiatrist.
When my brother came to see this play in previews he asked how long it was going to be. When I said “over an hour” he said in front of the entire audience: “Oy.” I thought that summed up our relationship and was enough drama for the evening. After the play however he came up to me and says, I forgive you for spitting in my face.
But there was no forgiveness when this happened many years ago. When my father, the fireman, comes home from the firehouse, my Mom says, “Mikey has been spitting in Leo’s face.” And my father, to show me it is wrong to pick on people who are smaller than you—goes after my backside. We have an unspoken agreement that the only place he’d spank me was on my ass.
So he chases me into the bedroom and I squirm out of his hands, wrapping my feet around the bedpost so he can’t get my ass. Eventually he turns me over and WHAP, BAM, he hits me.
As he leaves I cry the absolutely worst words I can think of: “You stinking, shut up, brat.” To show me you’ve got to respect your Dad he comes back in and we go through the same dance: grabbing, squirming away, feet around bedpost, turning me over, WHAP, WHAP.
And again I cry, this time a little softer, “you stinking, shut-up, brat.”
And again we go through our hitting dance. And again I say, this time very quietly, you stinking-shut-up-brat. I know he pretends not to hear me and he leaves.
I don’t talk to my father for three days. My mother comes to me in my room and says, “You’re making your Daddy feel so sad.” I don’t want to hear her say this so I put my hands over my ears. She is the one who started this. She slaps my hands and ears. Mom hits me anywhere she can. She doesn’t follow My Dad’s only hitting on the ass rule. I start to cry and she slaps me across the mouth. She says, “Boys don’t cry. You make me feel like a lousy mother. Don’t cry.”
Our dinners were usually what I call “The Tragedies of the Open Mouth.” Dad would need food so badly that he’d start stuffing bread down his gullet before Mom even sat down. This made her feel disrespected. She said, “I made our meal and you wouldn’t even wait for me to come to the table.” This made Dad feel a little more empty inside so he’d stuff down some more food. This made Mom complain again. I called it the Tragedy of the Open Mouth because neither of them could keep their mouth shut. Once when Dad said if you open your mouth once more I throw this coffee cup at you, Mom says AHHHHHHHH. Dad throws the cup, and splashes her with coffee. Mom wants to hit him back. I have to push Mom into the bathroom to stop the fight.
But tonight at this dinner after three days of not talking to my Dad, I watch him stuff down bread to get some comfort, go over to him and say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings Dad.”
One Rabbi wrote, when Abraham got to the sacrificial altar, Isaac took the rope and starting tying himself up, saying, “I know how hard this is for you Father. Let me help.”
Forty years later, during the last time I see my father alive, he confesses to me: “We learned how to parent by reading a psychologist named Watson. Watson said we shouldn’t spoil children. Feed them only every four hours. You screamed until you were blue in the face.
“But we didn’t feed you until four hours were up. And then you refused the bottle. No schedule for you.
“So I hold your arms down while Mom forces eggs down your throat.”
I picture a special hell for Watson---surrounded by beautiful women and delicious food he can only touch for one second every four hours.
I tell my Dad, thanks for binding me to the story of Abraham and Isaac before I could talk. There’s an old Jewish and Hindu belief that you choose your parents. I’d choose you as parents all over again. My Dad says, “it shows you what a lousy job I did as a father if you’d choose us again.”
When he was alive, one of my father’s many gifts was to send me away. The poet e. e. cummings writes that “there is a hell of a universe next door—let’s go.” The pain in my family is a motivation to get me to go to the University of Chicago—the school motto is to “live the life of the mind.” Our famous chancellor Robert Hutchins says that whenever he has an urge to exercise he lies down until the urge passes.
At the University we don’t ask people “how are you?” We ask, “What have you been thinking today?” And if your thoughts aren’t interesting enough you are immediately judged unworthy of conversation. We didn’t judge women on their looks. We asked if they were ontologically dense. Hannah Arendt, who wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism was our pin-up queen.
Soon I don’t have anyone to talk to except myself. It’s hard to decide things alone—like should I eat chocolate covered graham crackers for dinner. In my mind I hear an answer: Eat! When I have to decide whether to room with a student I am scared to talk with, I hear, “Only by diving in can you learn to swim.”
I tell my best teacher, a priest, about these conversations. He says, “Michael, you might not just be talking to yourself. You could be like Abraham—talking to God.”
I now have a choice. I can be a lonely boy talking to himself. Or the Creative Power of the cosmos could be talking to me.
So one afternoon I ask God the super-important question: God, Should I ask out Ann? I hear: “Ask!” Woody Allen imagined Humphrey Bogart helping him date women. But I had God!
I do what I’m told. I’m a good boy. We go out. The next crucial question: “Should I hold her hand?”
I hear: “Hold her hand, punk!”
When we say goodnight I think, should I hug her goodnight? I again ask. Again I am told, “Hug her!”
I tell her, “God just told me to hug you goodnight.” She smiles. And kisses me.
We start going out together. After awhile I really get scared. She invites me into her bedroom. It’s getting to be time to make love.
I go for my strength-- which is books. I find a book on her bookshelf. The very title makes me feel so happy. Someone who understands. It is called: Fear and Trembling. Sickness Unto Death. And would you believe - it’s about Abraham.
I read aloud to her. “God asks Abraham to sacrifice what he most loved in the world: his son, Isaac. Abraham does this for no reason. He’s not going to get anything for it. And then miraculously Abraham gets his son back again. But now the person he loves is infused with sacred energy.
I ask God if I should make love with Ann. God tells me: “Be like Abraham, give up the person you most love.” So I tell Ann, “God tells me to break up with you.”
We stop seeing each other. If you were going with someone who said, “God tells me to break up with you,” you might not want to be with them either.
Now it is really lonely. I get pictures in my mind of an ax chopping my head off. Much later I realize that My Head was stopping me from touching Ann. Some part of me was screaming: off with his head!
But to do this I have to flee from the life of the mind. I go to the land of Israel to find out who this God is who commands people like Abraham to give up what they most love.
To know the land of Israel I need to work on the land of Israel. I go build chicken coops on a kibbutz.
Working with dirt feels so much healthier than working with words. I grind manure into the ground of the coop. Chickens feel better when they walk in manure.
At the end of the work-day, my body is covered with manure. I see a friend of mine on the kibbuttz, and say, Rabbi, for the first time in my life I feel I don’t have to be witty or wise in order to feel like a valuable human being. I am a valuable human being just because I am covered with manure.
The Rabbi says, “Oh, ve can really talk, now dat you don’t hav to talk. Vy did you come to dis farm?”
I tell him that everyday I picture an ax chopping my head off and battering my body. I feel like one of our diseased chickens. Their heads make 360 degree turns around their necks.
He then asks a simple question I should have asked at the University of Chicago.
“Zo, whose holding de ax dat chops at your head?”
I look over the roof of the chicken coop. I see an arm holding the ax. I look up the arm. Who’s face is it? “Is it my father, is it God, is it me?”
“Von killer at a time.” the Rabbi says.
My father was a fireman. It’s his ax.
The Rabbi says “Ask him vat he vants from you?”
I ask. He responds.
“You trapped me in a horrible marriage. I never wanted you to exist.”
Is there anything else I can do for you, Dad?
“Love me. And leave me alone!”
You pretend you want us to leave you alone, but then you haunt us.
My rabbi friend says, “Now Pick up da ax you built da chicken coop vid. Now do to your fadder vat he is doing to you.”
I don’t want to hit my father with an ax.
“Just do a little itsy bitsy choplet. Try.”
I do a tiny tap on the ground with the ax.
“Now, just a little bit harder.”
Bam. Bang. Pow.
Ouch, it feels good doing this now.
“Vat does your fadder look like now?”
Like chicken feed.
The Rabbi invites me back into the chicken coop. He tells me to pick up the chicken feed lying on top of the shit. I hold it in my arms. “Now dat he can’t hurt you. Hold him next to your heart.”
“When I make lof wid my vife I feel like a hard boiled egg dat is rolled on a table and cracked open. After ve make lof I vant for her to hold me for a long time. I den alvays comes back to myself, but ven the cracks are sealed dey are alvays in a new pattern. My vife says to me, ‘Chiam, if ve are the same after ve make luf as before, ve shouldn’t vaste our time.’ Now it is for you to luf your fadder in a new vay.”
With tears in my eyes, even now I imagine I am hugging my father. I love you Dad, but don’t fuck with me anymore
“Remember it’s not just your fadder who beat the shit out of you. Listen--you can begin to heal yourself psychologically and still be haunted by God.
“Go to Jerusalem and learn how Isaac learned to laff vid his fadder, vid Got und vid himself. Only ven you can laff like Isaac vill de ax stop hitting you.
“So vot goes ha ha ha thunk?”
I’m not sure.
“Someone dat laffs his head off. Now go to Jerusalem and learn how God can help you laff your head off.”
I go to Jerusalem and I’m lonely. Did I mention I’m lonely. I really need to feel dirt. So I volunteer for an archeological dig next to the Temple Mount. This is where the Jewish Temple existed 2,000 years ago. The Romans destroyed it and that’s why Jews are dispersed all over the world.
As long as my skin is dusty with this ancient holy dirt I’m happy. But as soon as our shift is over my skin feels lonely. My skin is hungry so I call it “skin hunger.”
All the paid laborers digging this ancient Jewish holy site are Palestinians. The man I have been wheeling holy dirt with, Muhammad, sees how shaky I am and says “Mikael, you need something holy to steady you. Come to the Dome of the Rock with me.”
He takes me to this golden domed mosque on the Temple Mount. Inside we see a huge stone, the size of a baseball field.
Muhammad says, This is the rock where Abraham almost sacrificed his first-born son, Ishmael.”
I say, Ishmael? Our Bible says it was Isaac!
“Let’s not fight over who almost got sacrificed. We’re cousins, children of Abraham. Come on into the Dome of the Rock.”
I tell Muhammad that our rabbis write that when we rebuild our temple around this rock, it’ll be the sign of that the messianic age is here.
Muhammad says, “the Dome of the Rock is your rebuilt temple, Mikael. ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender’. Come and surrender.”
I kneel down like a Muslim, put my head on the ground.
Immediately Palestinian security guards surround me and command me to get up. I refuse to interrupt my prayer. Muhammad pulls me out of the mosque, saying, “They think you are making fun of our religion, Mikael.” The guards take my name and let me go.
Muhammad says, “If you really want to find out what surrender is, go to the Dead Sea and surrender to the salt water. The water is so salty, no one, not even you, can sink.”
I take a bus to the Dead Sea. I go to a section where everyone I see is Palestinian. I want to lie on the sea like everyone else, but I’m a little afraid my wallet will be stolen. I hope no one sees me as I put my wallet in my book bag, place the book bag near the water’s edge and then walk backwards into the dead sea. I then carefully lie down while watching my book bag. The salty water holds me up. I really can’t drown. I can almost surrender, but not quite, because I’m continually peeking at my book bag.
When I break this spell and stand up, I see many people covering each other with mud. I ask someone what’s going on? He answers in simple English, “mud heals.” He offers to cover me with mud.
I tell him, I’d love to be healed, and I let this stranger cover my entire body with mud. He motions to my eyelids. “Important to see right” he says. I quickly close my eyes so I can be entirely healed.
I then wash myself off and prepare to go back to Jerusalem healed. But my wallet is missing from my book bag. What a foolish American I am. How crafty of them. He gets me to close my eyes for just a moment while one of his friends lifts my wallet out of my book-bag.
With a peaceful presence I go over to the Palestinians surrounding the man who healed me. I say, “You can have the money. I just want my wallet back.”
My healer says, “Oh, you lost your wallet. Let us help you find it.” They dig in the ground around my book bag. I think they are mocking me—a naïve American.
I stand right in front of them and again say, “You can keep the money. I just want the wallet.”
They all leave the beach together. Perhaps they are afraid I’ll call an Israeli security guard and there’d be trouble. I stand next to their van. I again say, “I only want my wallet, you can keep the money.” They drive away.
I have to beg the bus driver to take me back to The Jerusalem YMCA where I am staying. I make phone calls to cancel all my blank checks. I have to check out of the “Y” since I have almost no money left.
As I am checking out the clerk, who is Palestinain, reaches under the desk and brings out my wallet. He says, “the bus driver on the route past the Dead Sea says he found your wallet under a seat. He saw your receipt from our YMCA and brought the wallet to us.”
I’m sorry I blamed Palestinians for my own carelessness. But I’m delighted to discover this and get my wallet back—with all the money.
I stop working on the dig and in order to study the Bible full-time at a school called Pardes, which means garden or paradise. To save money, I go to sleep in my new home, on a rooftop. It doesn’t rain for nine months in Jerusalem so rooftops can be great homes—with the clear sky as my ceiling.
My Bible teacher reminds me of Ann. Her name is Anna. She tells us the story of four students who enter paradise. “In paradise,” she says, “we can feel God’s love infusing everything. The ecstasy is so great for one student it kills him. Another gets so intoxicated he goes crazy. The third student blisses out and never leaves paradise. Only one student is able to live with the ecstasy of God while coming back to our world—cooking, cleaning, working, making love. How did she do it? She discovers that the absence of God is also God. It is the absence of God that moves us to cry, scream, search for God’s love in our life. The emptiness, the black hole in the soul, is especially divine.
After class, alone on my rooftop, I feel lonely. My skin misses being covered with dirt from the archeological dig. Skin hunger screams “I want touch.” I think of my Bible teacher. But my mind screams, “you don’t love her. It is wrong to have sex with someone you don’t love.” I say to my mind, “O.K. I’ll wait.” And then my skin starts screaming again, “I want to touch someone.” I say “O.K. I give up. I’ll go see my Bible teacher.” But my mind starts screaming again. “No no! No sex without love.”
I discover why people use the words “cracking up.” It feels like my head and body are going to break apart. I pray to the God in the sky. I hear: “Jump off the roof!”
I do not want to jump off the roof.
I remember in class my teacher Anna taught us that the word “Israel” means “to wrestle with God.”
My Bible teacher told us a story of a seeker who climbs a mountain. When she gets near the top, the view is so beautiful that she forgets to pay attention to what is underneath her feet. It had rained the previous evening and the rocks are wet. Our seeker starts to slide down the side of the mountain. But she’s resourceful. She’s a seeker. She grabs hold of a bush growing out of the side of the mountain. She holds on for a long time. But even our seeker gets tired. She looks around for help. All she can see is one cloud in the sky. So she cries to the cloud, “CAN ANYONE HEAR ME? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?”
And because she is a seeker she hears from the other side of the cloud, “I hear you my daughter, let go of that bush and fall into my arms.”
Our seeker thinks for a moment, looks around and cries “CAN ANYONE ELSE HEAR ME?”
My teacher tells us this is also the story of what happens when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. On the mountain, knife raised above Isaac, Abraham is able to silently cry, “Can anyone else hear me?” And Abraham is able to hear a messenger from God say, “Do not harm your child.”
I cry, “God, You must be teaching me to be an Israelite--to wrestle with You. You must want me to say “No, I won’t jump off the roof.”
But after this struggle my whole body is now trembling for touch. It feels like touch or die. I know where my Bible teacher lives. I can’t stop myself from walking to her home and knocking on her door.
I think it’s time for a break now.
I knock on Anna’s door and she invites me in. I tell her, “I can’t talk to you unless I hold your hand.” I need human touch or I’m going to crack up. I sing, more to myself than to her, Don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow never comes.”
We hold hands while we talk about God and then we lie down and hug. My mind feels lonely. Un-involved. I ask her, “could we please read the Bible while we touch.”
We leave for class the following morning. When I climb back to my rooftop in the late afternoon, my body starts screaming for more hugs. What’s going on? I don’t know. I just have to go back to Anna’s apartment.
Her roommate tells me “your teacher has gone to Tel Aviv for the night.” I must touch someone. I ask the roommate if I can hold her hand. She smiles and says “O.K.” We spend the evening together.
After class the next day I again find myself about to knock on my teacher’s door. I hear her screaming at her roommate. “That was my man, not yours.” And her roommate yells: “how was I to know. I thought he was just your student.”
I am thinking, I, who yesterday could barely put one foot in front of another, I, little itsy bitsy I, have polluted with my groping for touch the entire holy city of Jerusalem.
I had seen pictures of French women who’d taken Nazi soldiers as lovers during the occupation. When France was liberated the Frenchmen shaved these women’s heads. A bald head is a sign of bad fucking. I go to a barber and ask him to shave off every hair on my head.
After he finishes my body is still screaming for a hug. I again go back to Anna’s apartment. Knock on the door. They are still fighting. When I walk in, the roommate says, “He looks weird. You can have him.”
Anna, my bible teacher says, “Two weeks ago I dreamed that a Buddhist monk came into my life. You must be the one.”
It is not easy for me to make love with Anna. I very carefully touch her body to make sure she’s not going to hit me.
Three months later Anna tells me: “We’ve got a blooming surprise.”
“We’re pregnant, schmuck.”
“How do you know?”
“God told me.”
At the end of our Sabbath meal I get the courage to say: Well, I never thought of marrying you. But I want to be a good man. Let’s get married.
“Not exactly the marriage proposal I had in mind, Mikael.”
After she finishes desert she says, ‘Leave me alone for awhile so I can weigh such a touching proposal.”
A week later she comes and visits me on my rooftop. She doesn’t mention marriage. I tell her “since you don’t want to marry me why don’t we give the baby up for adoption.”
“Mikael. I am not going to have a baby and then let it be ripped away from me.”
When she leaves me I call a friend who had two abortions. She said, she wasn’t ready to bring up kids before she decided to marry her boyfriend. The kids would have been miserable. After they got married they were ready for children. And they now have two healthy boys.
I then call another friend who had two boys and then an abortion. She said the child needed to visit her—but just for a few months.
I tell Hannah: I feel like such a punk asking you to have an abortion. I could be like Abraham and have a child in the Holy Land. And now I don’t want you to have our child. When I tell myself or anyone the story of my life people will all say: what a coward.
Hannah says, “I always prefer stories that have surprise endings.
A few weeks after the abortion, I ask Anna to go with me to my old kibbutz to hear my rabbi conduct Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) services.
The Rabbi says, “the vord for ‘sin’ in Hebrew is ‘chet.’ Ven an archer shoots at his targit und misses da bull’s eye, dat is a chet. A chet is not an unforgiveable ding. You just missed da targit, so you can try again. For all da marks dat you missed for da year, not only do you haf to ask God to forgive, ve also haf to forgive each udder. So I vant for you to turn to the person next to you and ask dem to forgive all your chets, all your missing da marks.
So I look at Anna and ask her, “Will you forgive me for missing the mark?”
She says to me: “Mikael, I forgive you for hitting the mark.”
She then says to me, “Will you forgive me for my chets?”
This forgiveness is too simple. It makes me uncomfortable so I think it would be funny to say “No!”
She turns away from me.
About 15 minutes later we hear WAAAAAAAAAAAAA [air raid siren sounds.] The Rabbi herds us all into the basement and soon tells us: “de Egyptians und de Syrians are surprise attacking Israel.”
Anna is angry: “Mikael, you made me kill the child inside of me--now they are killing children outside.”
When the air raid sirens sound all clear I take Anna to the bus to Jerusalem. She gets on alone and says, “Mikael, don’t get drafted into the army and kill. Go back to America. Take care of yourself. You’re such a child. Call me when you grow up, when you understand why Abraham didn’t kill Isaac.”
I start teaching at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Maybe I’ll learn to be an adult.
After teaching many times about Abraham and Isaac, I finally discover why Isaac’s name means “He-Will-Laugh.” I write this play-- Inaudible Laughter. I invite Anna to the preview. The same preview during which my brother, when told there would be two acts, said very audibly in front of the audience: “Oy Vey.”
I’m Abraham. Sarah has given me a son. But I’m not sure it’s mine. I live in doubt for three years. The day Isaac is weaned we have a feast. Isaac plays with Ishmael--not with Sarah. Sarah is jealous. She doesn’t want one big happy family. She tells me “I do not want Ishmael, my slave’s son, to share the family’s inheritance. Cast them both out - mother and son - into the wilderness!”
I pray: “God give me guidance.” God tells me what any wife would want her husband to hear: “Listen to your woman’s voice.” With great sorrow I give Hagar a loaf of bread and a cask of water and send her with our son Ishmael into the desert.
Now I have to live with Sarah and Isaac. I’m supposed to be fruitful. I was promised all families on earth will be blessed through me. But do I even have a family? The son I know I conceived has been banished. Every time I hear Sarah and Isaac laugh I wonder if they are laughing at me. Am I Isaac’s father? Isaac’s laughter is ruining my life.
Before dawn I hear my name called. “Abraham.” For the first time I can answer this Voice with the words “Here-I-Am.” It is not easy to say Here-I-am. I think I have to be ready for really bad news. But I didn’t imagine it would be this bad.
“Take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac and offer him up on one of the mountains I will show you.”
Help. I’d cry, “help me God.” But it is God who is commanding me to kill.
The first thing I do is to wake up two of Isaac’s friends. When I wake Isaac I want him to know he’s not alone with his crazy father. Isaac watches me chop wood. I give the wood to Isaac to carry.
We walk in silence for two days. I tell the boys to wait at the foot of the mountain while I go up with Isaac to pray.
On the journey up the mountain Isaac says his only words on this journey: “Father, I see the fire and the knife, but where is the lamb for the offering?” I answer ambivalently: God will provide a sacrifice, my son. Isaac is now knows what its like to be tortured by doubt.
We get to the top of Mount Moriah (which means “God will provide”). I tie up Isaac. He does not resist. I place him on the wood and raise my knife. It seems like every cell in his body trembles under my knife. My knife gives death or life to Isaac.
I hear his question again, Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice. “Sacrifice” means to “make sacred.” His innocent question infuses my body. Where is the lamb? Where is the lamb? Where is the lamb?
Am I the lamb? Or am I the father the lamb? I am sacrificing myself as much as I am sacrificing Isaac.
My life is fruitless without him. Stupid, meaningless. My entire body also trembles. Isaac has the power of life and death over me.
Now I can hear a messenger from the Lord cry “do not stretch out your hand against the child. Do not do anything to him?
Do these words come from Isaac’s friends? I see a ram conveniently caught in a thicket. Did the boys place it there? I take the ram and stab and stab and stab it. I am sacrificing the God who asked me to kill a child.
Isaac staggers away from me. I have seen a new face of God, speaking out of the mouths of children.
I now have to arrange to get a wife for my son Isaac. My servant brings a bride from the land I first started out from.
I now am Isaac.
When Rebecca sees me for the first time I am meditating in the fields. She falls off her camel. I am not a macho man like all those biblical patriarchs.
I can’t stop seeing the knife Abraham raised over me. Daily it rips open my heart.
Rebecca takes me into my mother’s tent and comforts me. It feels like a new heart is growing out of my hearts wounds. It is written that I am the first man in the Bible who “loves his wife.”
I feel like a jack-in-the-box. I was tied and bound and now I bounce free. No wonder my name means “he-will-laugh.”
In front of our small audience Anna walks over to me and says: “Can you repeat after me: ‘I am eager to sacrifice myself for love.’”
I say: “I am eager to sacrifice myself for love. [I scream] AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
She says not quite. Let me hold your head. Try again.
“I am eager to sacrifice myself for love. OYYYYYYYYYYY.”
“Better Michael. Now try it with my hand on your heart.”
“I am eager to sacrifice myself for love. Ha ha.”
“Almost. Stand up. Let’s lean into each other so that we’d fall if either of us moves away. Now say it again, so the heavens can hear.”
“I am eager to sacrifice myself for love. HA Ha ha ha ha ah ha ha ha ah ha.”
With her hands on my shoulders she gently pushes me down onto my knees and says “Thank God, I’ve always wanted someone brave enough to sacrifice to me.”
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2003 by Michael Koran
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