We floss, Lord

Fall 2009

According to a book on the laws of the holiday Yom Kippur, the Talmud states, “Yom Kippur atones for those who repent and does not atone for those who do not repent”. To aid both Jews and non-Jews involved in one or the other of these processes, a little poem from a person of mixed and wan faiths.

We floss, Lord, we watch our weight
Our underwear is new and clean
Hair brushed, shaved, colored, waxed
Our nails are done; gym three times a week

When the service is good, Lord,
We give pretty good tips
And we try to remember to recycle
When we’re not in a rush

We have lots of friends
Our phones and computers are always on
When we are not sure if we are desired
When it looks as if another’s smile, sales or contacts are preferred

When we are not sure we are desired, Lord
We turn away and pretend our phones are off
Then, God of pardon, we have been desired
And it is us who have said no

We often exceed the speed limit
We run red lights, and text and drive
At times, when we’re drunk, for instance,
The things we do (and say) in bed!

We have wanted to feel lucky, Lord
Everything we know began the day we were born
We have wanted to feel bright as a beach in summer
With that special warm glow that comes from being where others are not

We have read about the Holocaust, given money to UNICEF
We have surfed past innumerable docudramas
People exploited, animals oppressed
(To say nothing of some friends, buried at their desks)

Would you have us feel more guilty, take more classes
Would you have us worry, Lord?
We are human beings
So much that is good we find within

And so much that is bad we can see in the world around us
In other countries, other neighborhoods
In people who don’t share our politics
Our taste in clothes, religious beliefs

So now it comes again—a day of atonement
Which sin are we supposed to redress?
We have admired parents and grandparents
And laughed, too, imitating them behind their backs

As for ourselves, our special group
We will always be who we are, Lord
Eating the foods that people like us are eating
And ditto for cars and pills and art, vacation spots

It’s not that we have not made mistakes, Lord
We know we have
It’s not that we have not been catty and cruel
We know we have

We keep lists on paper
And in our heads lists of who and what have held us back
And the leaders and organizations who are really responsible
And all the wonderful things we enjoy that others do not

Have we forgotten to thank you for those others, Lord?
For their willingness to do our laundry,
Wait in lines, wash our dishes,
Take public transportation, make our beds

Of course we have done unto others
And unto our friends, too, by the way
At times it’s been precious little
At times a bit too much

Pardon us, forgive us, atone for us
This is the best we can do
This is the maximum effort we are prepared to make.



Some stats and some news stumbled upon in September 2012. (1) During the German Occupation of France, between 1940 and 1944, hundreds of thousands of letters were sent to the police or to the Gestapo denouncing residents of France as Jews or communists or De Gaulle supporters—enemies of the state of one kind or another. According to the French historian Lauent Joly (La délation dans la France des années noires, Editions Perrin, 2012), in most every case the motivation for the letter was personal rather than political. Simply put, people were attacking neighbors, competitors, spouses—people they didn’t like or who had something they coveted. All this was encouraged by the government under what in the post-9/11-era could be called “if you see something, say something.”

(2) In Australia, apparently, the colloquial verb is “to dob” or “to dob in”: to tell on someone. And indeed the government has a set up a “dob-in line” (1-800-009-623) for any who may wish to report on tourists whose visas have expired, or on people working without the proper papers, or on those who would seem to have married for love of being able to stay legally in Australia. This is ironic if also not surprising given the waves of convicts, gold diggers, post-World-War-II refugees and Ten Pound Poms (British subjects charged only ten pounds sterling for the fare): people who have found homes for themselves on the island sometime in the past 250 years. In any case, the French example calls attention to one of the perhaps little-regarded benefits of the dob-in line (which has been getting more than a thousand calls a month): It has the capacity to provide locals a convenient means of making life miserable for neighbors, competitors and spouses—envied, feared or simply disliked.

Francophones may be interested in the brief interview with M. Joly published in February 2012 in the Swiss newspaper La Liberté:Quand la délation empoisonnait la France.” This is the source of the photograph of envelopes appearing above. Official details regarding the dob-in line may be found at www.immi.gov.au/contacts/dob-in.

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