“Conversations with My Foot”

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Conversations with My Foot

The other day I got an email from Elmer Sprague, my long-time friend and senior colleague. He’d read “It’s Not Enough to be Intelligent” and heard its distress call. As indeed some other friends had. “Dear Abbie” has become a nice way to stay in touch.

Elmer has known me many years, through joys and sorrows, and I don’t think he’s ever heard me use the word “depressed” referring to myself. He wanted to know what ‘n hell had happened with my medical team. He did the nicest thing a friend can do: listened to the whole story from start to end without interruption.

There was a philosopher who wrote a famous essay called “My Station and Its Duties.” Elmer takes all that pretty literally. He goes to weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and graduations, the latter in his Oxford robes. Calls on the sick. Telephones the dying if he can’t get there. Doesn’t make a fuss about it but gets it done. Really. So of course he found my tale — of medical hopes raised and dashed without explanation, procedures and treatments promised and then forgotten — both creepy and preposterous!

He had only one suggestion:

“Why don’t you talk to your foot?”

“Okay Elmer, I’ll try it. But if it doesn’t work, don’t blame me.”

I got off the phone thinking, huh! Talk to my foot! I must have talked to it dozens of times. Never heard a mumblin’ word back. But okay. What’ve I got to lose.

“Hello foot? Can you hear me? Have you got anything to say to me?
What’s wrong with you?”

I was lying down, not looking at the foot, eyes closed. Much to my surprise, my foot seemed to rear back and silently convey a verbal answer.

I’m deracinated.

Deracinated? Well, that was unexpectedly specific. Let’s see. Do I feel cut off from my roots?

I’ve left Manhattan, where I was rooted as I am nowhere else. In my younger years, when I was with my parents, I felt that all was familiar and I was thoroughly understood. Is that where the lost root went?

I tried again to picture the family home I had cherished. What came back to me now was that I’d also felt, peculiarly, that the other family members were there by nature, while I was there playing a part. (Don’t know how this might be decoded psychologically or how usual it is for a child to feel that way.)

Anyway, it appeared that the ultimate root couldn’t be Manhattan, or my long lost childhood with my parents. Where then?

At that point, I thought of the strange quasi-memory, or strong, empathic, recent impression (described in “Beyond Recovery”), of having perished in the run-up to the Holocaust (ca. 1933ff). I have no other memories (apart from the killing method), to give it empirical backing. So I certainly can’t claim it as a “past life” event. But it is remarkably vivid and sad. Is this “the root”? I wondered.

Presently my mind went back to a different root: Abraham meeting God and making a covenant with God. I decided to see what would happen if I brought these two Jewish impressions closer together.

By that time of the morning, I was lying on the slant board I use after exercise, with head lower than my feet. As I pictured the two images touching and becoming nearly congruent, the strangest thing happened – not like anything I had experienced in my life before. The correlation between the Covenant and the Holocaust became indisputable. The first involved the second, predictably. A cascade of tears coursed down my face. I began involuntarily to utter short, high-pitched cries. My arms stretched upward as if imploringly. I felt the face of God near my face. I did not beg God for anything. I did not accuse God. I merely lived the reality — my face facing God’s face — with a grief that went beyond outstretched arms, outcries and tears.

At last the sobs subsided. I made my way upstairs to my office, which adjoins Jerry’s. I thought it not right to leave Jerry out, so I went over to him, we sat face to face, and I told him what I had just experienced.

He listened, saying little. Jerry is not a bit Jewish. To my way of thinking, he couldn’t be Jewish if he tried, and he doesn’t try. But now something was different in his eyes. They held the sadness of my grandfather’s eyes. He had acquired Jewish eyes.

A few days later, I had my second visit to the latest possible helper for my foot: the local acupuncturist. A very nice guy. Whether he’ll be able to help or not neither of us knows, but we both think it worth a try.

Acupuncturists deal with the chi, the whole energy system, which includes body, emotions, mind and spirit. Accordingly, it seemed correct, as long as I wanted help from this source, to report my rather odd, recent experience.

The acupuncturist’s instant reaction: sad eyes signal not being grounded. We’ll put the needles at these and those meridians, to recoup the lost energy.

My first reaction was to contest the acupunturist’s view. No, I wanted to say, that’s not right. If you have “Jewish eyes,” it means you now grasp the agon of history in its dramatic depth. It’s not a falling off. It’s a promotion!

But then I thought: no. Leave him alone. You are not applying to him for help with living in history. The help you want is for blocked energy – the oscillations, the reciprocities, the yin and yang of nature. You want him to unblock the flow of forces in your system. Let him be. You need his help, if he can give it.

There is not just one religion.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, soon to appear in a revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
This entry was posted in Academe, Action, Alienation, Contradictions, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Ethics, Evil, Faith, Friendship, Guilt and Innocence, Health, History, Identity, Jews, life and death struggle, Love, Memoir, Philosophy, Power, Psychology, relationships, Roles, Spirituality, Suffering, Terror, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Woman, Theism, Violence, War, Zeitgeist and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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