Friday the 13th

So, Mike and Judy went out to eat with their friends Richard and Barbara last week, and Richard asked Mike if I had written anything about black cats and Friday the 13th. I hadn’t planned to write anything about it because it’s stupid for anyone to think that a black cat brings bad luck…..or that the number 13 brings bad luck. It is especially stupid to combine the stupidities into the double whammy of encountering a black cat on Friday the 13th bringing bad luck. The superstition in America of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day is well established. However, there is no scientific evidence that 13 or any other number is unlucky. In other countries the 13th falling on other days of the week, for example, Tuesday in Greece, is considered bad luck. This is equally stupid. All of this presupposes that there is such a thing as luck. It’s certainly true that unexpectedly fortuitous things happen to people, things that could be considered good luck. Likewise, unexpectedly bad things happen to people, possibly a result of bad luck. But there is no agency or force that drives this. You can take my word for it.

There are a lot of stories about the origins of the unlucky nature of the number 13. One that I have heard is traced back to the Last Supper of Jesus, the Passover Seder which supposedly occurred on the 13th of the Hebrew month Nisan. There were 13 people in attendance, Jesus and his 12 disciples. Since 13 is an odd, or imperfect number, this could be considered to be evidence of disharmony. Furthermore, one of the 13 betrayed Jesus. This was Judas Iscariot whose luck ran out shortly thereafter. There are other legends including one about the Knights Templar whose luck ran out in 1307 when King Philip IV of France had hundreds of them burned at the stake. Their crime had been that they had become too powerful and were seen as a threat to Philip as well as to Pope Clement V. Worse, King Philip owed the Knights a lot of money. The Knights Templar had put themselves in position of being the bankers in the Christian world. Apparently, Philip thought that cancelling the debt was preferable to repaying it. So, according to this legend the incineration of the Knights occurred on Friday, October 13, 1307 in Paris. The Grand Master of the Knights put a curse on the day and on the people who perpetrated the crime. I’m not suggesting that you believe the story.  I’m just sharing.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, around the time the Knights Templar were taking it in the chops, there was a series of plagues. Some people blamed cats and an effort was made to exterminate cats. Thousands of innocent cats were murdered. (By the way, I’ve seen this phrase used, and I don’t really understand the point of saying “innocent” children or “innocent” cats that befell some kind of cruel misfortune. Of course children and cats are innocent. Why is it necessary to say so?) Anyway back to the bubonic plague or typhus or whatever it was. Ironically, by killing  so many cats the rat population, which was the actual source of the plagues, increased.

Back in the days when people used to believe in such things, witches were thought to be able to turn themselves into cats in order to perpetrate their evil mischief on the innocent citizens of whatever community in which they resided. That’s why it was such a good idea to burn witches at the stake and kill cats. It’s not clear who benefited from any of this, certainly not the cats or the  ladies that were unjustly accused and murdered. By the way, for some reason Mike thinks I should mention that in many cases it was the clergy and other spiritual leaders of the communities that perpetrated these crimes, and all in the name of Christianity. Christians today should not be held responsible for this. I’m just saying that just because somebody he says he is speaking for God doesn’t mean that he really is.

And since we’re talking about terrible things, it’s time for me to say something about cilantro. Mike and Judy are both cilantro haters. Judy says that it tastes like soap to her. This is a common perception among cilantro haters. Mike says he has never tasted soap so he can’t say one way or the other. What he can say is that he hates the stuff, that is, cilantro. He says the first time he ever ran across it was in a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta 30 some years ago. He thought that they had served him a salad with spoiled lettuce. Mike is normally a reasonably civil and well-behaved person in public. However, slip some cilantro into his food and watch him perform. He and Judy were out once with Judy’s brother and his wife and they went to a Vietnamese restaurant. Mike was very naïve in those days about what cultures include cilantro in their food. When he took a big first bite out of his spring roll he was filled immediately with such revulsion that given the choice of chewing it up and swallowing it or spitting it out into his napkin, it was almost as if the choice was made for him. It was an embarrassing moment. Then there was the time he and Judy were at a really nice restaurant and Mike ordered one of his favorite things, bouillabaisse. Mike loves meals where everything is cooked in one pot. Who would think that French cuisine would include cilantro? (Julia Child once said that if she found cilantro in her food she would pick it out and throw it on the floor.) Nevertheless, the bouillabaisse was inedible and Mike loudly burst forth that his entire evening was ruined. This was completely spontaneous and with no thought whatsoever. A nerve was touched. This sudden, forceful, and spontaneous reaction to taste must be related to the survival instinct. And people’s sense of smell is so weak that they frequently have no idea what their food is going to taste like before they actually put it in their mouths. People are kind of pitiful in this respect.

So, it seems that cilantro doesn’t taste the same to everybody. Mike and Judy both think that there is no possible way that people who like cilantro perceive the taste the same way that they do. There are other foods that are commonly disliked that probably do taste the same to everyone, but a lot of people just don’t like it. Liver would be a good example. It has a very strong flavor which some people find disgusting. And then there’s the issue of texture. Come to think of it, cats can be pretty finicky about flavors in their foods as well. There are very few canned cat foods that Ladybug will eat, for example. Shayna Maidel will eat anything with gusto that comes out of a can with a picture of a cat on it. Jackson lies somewhere in between. As for me, if it’s there I’ll eat it, but I like to catch my own fresh food. Farm to table, that’s my style.

Cilantro is comprised of the green leafy part of the coriander plant. Some sources say that the word, coriander, is derived from the Greek word for bedbug, and that the aroma has been compared to the smell of bug-infested bedclothes. I wouldn’t know. Mike and Judy both make a point when they’re at a restaurant and ordering of telling the waitstaff that they are allergic to cilantro. However, at some restaurants the waitstaff lacks facility in English, so they are still at risk. This is sometimes true in Indian restaurants, a cuisine that is riddled with cilantro. So, they really can’t be sure that they’ve communicated adequately. Mike now knows to only order tandoori chicken whenever he goes to an Indian restaurant. So far this has worked well for him. Mexican restaurants are another place that he can’t be too careful. The cilantro can show up in any of the sauces (or salads). Mike only goes to Mexican restaurants where he knows their salsa is cilantro-free. I’m told that some people who at one point  hated cilantro eventually develop a taste for it. This is the sort of thing that’s hard for a cat to understand, but people tend to eat a much greater variety of foods than we do and they have a tendency to season their foods. They also will eat food and drink beverages that are manifestly evil and taste dreadful, and yet come to like them. Beer would be a good example of this. Actually, I have heard that some dogs  enjoy beer. Mike said when he was at the University of Illinois one of the fraternity houses  had a St. Bernard that they used to ply with copious amounts of beer. One could see the dog passed out around campus from time to time. I doubt if they would get away with that stunt now. At least I hope not.

I got distracted from my writing so this post is a little stale for Friday the 13th. Please forgive me, but I had other things to do, people to see, and other cats and dogs to visit with here in Happy Meadows. Nevertheless, I thought I’d put it up anyway, and I hope you all enjoyed it.

The Kaddish

So, it was about 3 weeks ago that Mike’s dear friend, Warren, was released from his struggles and passed through that mysterious door we call death. He and Mike had become very close. Some people can talk to each other for hours, and never run out of things to say to each other. Mike and Warren were like that. Warren was ill the past few years, so Mike always went to see him. Warren never came here.They had a common interest in spirituality and religion. Warren was a licensed minister with the Disciples of Christ, also known, if I understand it correctly, as the Christian Church. He and Mike agreed on most things spiritual. I suppose that the biggest difference is that Warren was a Christian, and Mike is Jewish. Mike has a liberal theology in which he takes most of the stories in the Bible as allegorical rather than factual. He thinks what is important is the message behind the story. He and Warren were in agreement about this. The message is all about love. We are directed to love each other, love God, and love ourselves. It turns out to be a lot harder to do than it looks like it should. It is not so hard for a cat, but people don’t see things nearly so clearly as we do, and their lives are more complicated. Mike and Warren were also in recovery, so they had that in common as well.  Another element of their lives held in common was, as Warren put it, they had both “married up.” They agreed that they both had better wives than they were entitled to. Brenda fully devoted herself to caring for Warren, and exhausted herself in the process. I guess you never know what you are capable of doing until you have to do it.

So, Warren passed on, and the memorial service was held last Saturday at Warren’s church. Mike, Judy, and Michelle all went. Warren’s good friend, Rev. Jerry, presided and delivered the eulogy. Many of Warren’s friends spoke up and talked about how much Warren had meant to them in their own journey. A couple of them said he had saved their lives, being there for them and knowing what to say when they were in great need. It was a celebration of Warren’s life. It underscored the important fact that we all are here to play a part in God’s great plan to love each other and make the world a better place. Brenda had called Mike just after Warren died and asked if he would say a Hebrew prayer at Warren’s funeral. Mike was honored, and said he would say Kaddish for Warren.

The Kaddish is a prayer that was very likely a part of the Jewish liturgy going back to the time of Jesus, shortly before the destruction of the second temple. Its language is Aramaic, the daily spoken language of the Jewish people during that period. It is a prayer of sanctification of the name of God.Over the centuries it has been modified somewhat, and now contains  Hebrew sentences in addition to the Aramaic text. The entire prayer is not long. It can easily be recited in less than two minutes. The word “Kaddish” means sanctification. It is found in the great vision of the prophet Isaiah where the angels all said “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” Or in the Hebrew of the Bible, “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.” In time, a version of the Kaddish began to be recited at funerals, and for a length of time after the death of a parent or of a loved one. This form is referred to as the Mourner’s Kaddish. It has existed in this form and practice for several hundred years. It is also a traditional practice for a Jew to say Kaddish for a deceased loved one on the anniversary of their death. This is done at the synagogue, where the community can be aware and supportive of the loss. It is of some interest that there is no reference in the Kaddish to death. Scripture says “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Kaddish is the “blessed be the name” part of that sentiment. The anniversary of the death is referred to as the Yortzeit. Mike late wife’s Yortzeit is tomorrow. It will mark 26 years since she has passed on. Mike isn’t so sure that she ever left Michelle though. I think he is right.

So Mike said Kaddish for Warren at his going home celebration, and also read the translation in English. Brenda sent him a beautiful note thanking him. She said that Warren was/would have been very pleased . I’m sure this is so. Mike could not have been more grateful for the opportunity to honor his friend in this way.

I had mentioned in my last post that Mike had given a talk at Rev. Larry’s church about the relationship between Passover and Easter, and that I was going to try to get Mike to put it up on my blog. Mike said that it is too long and boring, and that he is not going to do it. However, he will email it to anyone who wants to read it. You can email him at [email protected] if you want to. He doesn’t check his email every day so be patient, please.

It is a beautiful day today in Happy Meadows. All the trees are blooming, and the azaleas have opened up. I went by to see Mrs. Greenblatt this morning. She and her husband were just getting home from church. Mr. Greenblatt is Jewish, but she is Roman Catholic. Today is Easter Sunday. I could feel that despite the very recent death of Snowball, who as you may remember was run over by a car on Meadows Trace a few days ago, she is comforted by her relationship with her Lord. Life is so hard that it would be intolerable, it seems to me, if you don’t believe in something. I think Mrs. Greenblatt appreciated my visit. She spoke sweetly to me and offered me one of Snowball’s yummy little treats. I think I’ll drop in on her from time to time, just to see how she is doing. Let’s all pray for Mrs. Greenblatt, and for Brenda, and for Mike and Michelle, and for everyone who is sad for whatever reason, that they may find peace and consolation in their lives.