21 January 2006

A Strange Joint

The last time I was in Amsterdam, it was a question. Should I slide into a coffee house, order a joint, and lean on back into a different head space?

It had been about eight years since I had my last dance with marijuana. I had stopped soon after I quit smoking cigarettes. Everytime I smoked pot, I just wanted to smoke a cigarette, so why bother? When I started listening to a higher law, soon after, I was persuaded that I had to respect the law of the land (nothing had persuaded me of such a thing before.) Marijuana went more or less off the radar. I would think about it periodically, in passing, but never thought to act on it.

In truth, when I was smoking, I didn't enjoy it all that much. It held out an initial promise that was never delivered. It could be that I was too much of a teenage emotional mess to properly appreciate it, it could be that all of us had too many agendas and desires that we were unable to let go of, or it could be that the stuff just ain't all that special. Having left it behind, however, I imaged that there were still some jewels buried there. Some jewels that I just hadn't had the tools to find.

So there I was in Amsterdam. Every time I passed a coffee shop, my heart was drawn in, but I stayed outside. I walked into one place - dark, green, acrid, slow, suspicious, sick - and walked out. There were other places - brighter, with air, deck chairs, chess boards, canal views, and chill tunes - that drew me in a bit more.

I could make a legal case to permit, and there was a serious draw - curiosity, maybe a fixing, maybe an opening, a treasure hunt - yes dangerous, but what isn't? But it was Tammuz, the anti-disengagement protests were happening, my people were torn, and I didn't have a good friend to stand by my side in a holy exploration.

I was in Holland for a handful of days, wavering back and forth. The last day, I had a realization. I wanted to walk into a coffee shop, go up to the bar, look at the menu, order something, pay for it, sit down, roll up a joint, spark it up, smoke it - but I had no interest in being high. It didn't really pull me. I wanted to do all those things that I had always done in hiding, with fear, but in an open way - clean and clear.

In the end, I didn't do it, and I don't regret that choice. It wasn't a time for celebration or exploration. I had the desire, but I don't have to act on my desires. Still, I don't consider the matter closed. It wasn't right then, but it may be right in the future.

I was told last week that I'm likely being sent to Holland again. This time, it looks like Shvat. If it was Adar, it would be pretty straight forward, Shvat's a borderline case. We'll see what happens...


Shtender said...

I wish you strength to withold and no regets if you don't.

'laizer said...

Shtender - you're sure I should withold? Perhaps I need to courage to charge ahead!

Shtender said...

If you really felt that you shouldn't withold, charging forward would not require strength. Your saying that it does leads me to believe that you already know in your heart that you want to withold.

oishkapipik said...

Maybe you should withold from the Amsterdam experience and hold off till the Adar/Israel experience!

yitz said...

A good tefilla, or shiur, or learning, or a niggun, can take you much further than any artificial stimulant, alcoholic or otherwise, can.

Here's an interesting thought for you:

The first person in the Torah who invented musical instruments was Yuval. In Genesis, it says he was the father of the flute, the wind instruments, and the harp, the strings. Now what is the etymology of Yuval? It means "to transport." The whole idea of music is to transport the person's soul.


'laizer said...

shtender - I hear your reasoning, but I'm not sure if I agree. I sometimes find it easier to refrain than to do the risky things that I should be doing.

oishkapipik - Now, if it was either/or, Purim in Israel would win - hands down. But given that I could do both...

yitz - what you wrote pulls on my heart, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Learning, davening, niggun - these have been my constant companions for the past years.
The question is, given all you say, what reality are our sages communicating to us when they base so much ritual on wine? When one of the Sages claims that he is a better judge after a little wine? When they say that a person is obligated to become 'spiced' on Purim?
Clearly there is a place is the Jewish worldview for these things.

LMervis said...

”I could make a legal case to permit, and there was a serious draw - curiosity, maybe a fixing, maybe an opening, a treasure hunt - yes dangerous, but what isn't?"

“I sometimes find it easier to refrain than to do the risky things that I should be doing."

I agree that openings are dangerous. But that that's not the last word. Aviva Zornberg spoke this week about the mouth and the place of Milah (also, ‘word’) being openings. . . and being places of vulnerability. Moshe was “of uncircumsized lips” as if he were ‘satum,’ sealed. He had not the wounds (!) that would open him up, open his mouth, allow him to speak, to be vulnerable. To be human. He, as it were, was never touched on the lip by that angel in utero (this actually is a midrash about him) that would have taken from him, in one moment, the perfection and self-sufficiency of “oceanic knowledge,” but in the same moment would have made him able to “speak,” to begin the inter-personal experience of reclaiming and recapturing the knowledge for the self. Even if it would mean making mistakes along the way, saying the wrong things. And his refusal to speak . . . stalled redemption.

Not everything is dangerous, but real living, in a way that passes through openings, and which brings into the self, and puts out—this certainly is. (Agreed, the fact that you could make a legal case for it does not determine that it’s right for you.)

What is this precious thing, this hidden jewel that you are considering? To be justifiable, would the alternative experience have to bring you to a truth that you wouldn’t have otherwise accessed? A higher truth? Or is an alternate state of mind precious and ‘true’ enough in itself?

It’s admirable that you wanted your behavior to be appropriate, not only in the context of your own life, but in a greater human context. The timing—with suffering in the community—wasn’t right, it seems.

Ayelet said...

Loved your answer to the blogger question on your profile. Wish your profile had a bit more about you. I enjoyed this post. What do you mostly blog about?

'laizer said...

LMervis - Thanks for the Torah - interesting there the relationship between vulnerability and progress...

Ayelet - You may be the only person who got my answer to that question!

Ayelet said...

Geez. Dumb people.

Tamara said...

Hey, I'm going to Amsterdam (along with Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp) in March...NOT for the Marijuana aspect, there's so much more in Amsterdam, so much Jewish history.

I used to be a regular "partaker" too. Although I don't smoke anymore, I'm sure in Amsterdam I'll find a non-touristy, more local coffeeshop and well, imbibe. :)