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Something terrible’s going to happen. I don’t know what it is. My teeth are going to fall out, or I’ll lose my job, or all of my friends will suddenly decide that I smell bad and they don’t want to be seen with me. I can tell something terrible’s going to happen, because I’ve been feeling so good for so long.

My fellow pessimists-by-temperament will understand what I mean. I love God, really I do, but I haven’t got his sense of humor down just yet. Sometimes He talks the sweetest just when he’s got his giant Holy Mallet hidden behind His back. Wham!

So I just can’t quite shake the sense of impending doom. In, you know, a nice way.

My heritage has something to do with it. I’m 100% Jewish by birth — my parents were raised as cultural-but-not-particularly-observant Jews and eventually found the Church — and if there’s a more melancholy, neurotic people anywhere on earth, I’d like to meet them.1 But maybe not chat for too long.

There’s even a Yiddish word this kind of thing: kineahora,2 which you say to ward off the kind of bad luck that comes from talking about how wonderful everything is: as in, “He hasn’t allowed a single run all game, kineahora,” or “You know, I’ve never been hit by a semi while walking down this street, kineahora.3

And then there is habit. I’m just not used to feeling good. A lot has changed since college, and while I still have my bad days, the old black dog seems to be really dead this time,4 or at least he’s been thoroughly domesticated. So I still wonder in the back of my mind: Is this real, is this here to stay? Is this how normal people feel? Shouldn’t I feel worse?5

On the other hand, it’s good to know that feelings don’t stay. I doubt that I was ever full-on manic-depressive in the clinical sense, but I remember the highs just as vividly as the lows: it was like seeing the world in technicolor, everything just fit to burst, and knowing with complete certainty: This is it, I’ve found the secret, and I will FEEL THIS WAY FOREVER!

Until I didn’t. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

The thing to do, obviously, is just enjoy it while it lasts, and not worry when it’s gone. Hey, that’s William Blake, more or less:

He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the wingèd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.6

Now there’s a guy who knew what was up. Except for, you know, being a raving lunatic.

1 Jews are allowed to talk about Jews this way.
2 Pronounced to rhyme with “Dina-Cora,” Leo Rosten says, although we always said it with a short i.
3 WHAM!!
4 Kineahora.
5 Feeling bad about feeling good: practically the definition of neurosis.
6 From Poems From Blake’s Notebook, or so says wikiquote.

15 thoughts on “The Holy Mallet

  1. Anna Marie

    Steve, I have been reading your blog for a couple of months, and I have loved every single post. You are such a good human being with refreshing insights.

    But this post…..I identify with it SO MUCH!!! I LOLed at the term “The Holy Mallet”. I too live in fear of the Holy Mallet. I never trust when things are going well…..I am always looking around the corner for something to fall apart. I now have a term for it…thank you!

    Reply
  2. Ron

    God’s “Holy Mallet”, eh? LOL. Now, I’m definitely a “glass half full” kind of guy, although I don’t know where I got that trait. Not from my parents, that’s for sure. People of Polish descent run neck-and-neck to people of Jewish descent when it comes to pessimism. I guess my approach is that when bad things happen, it just makes you appreciate the good things in life all the more. Where am I going with this? I dunno – it’s after 2am, and I’m tired. Good night, folks.

    Reply
  3. Zach

    “I remember the highs just as vividly as the lows: it was like seeing the world in technicolor, everything just fit to burst, and knowing with complete certainty: This is it, I’ve found the secret, and I will FEEL THIS WAY FOREVER!

    Until I didn’t. Ouch, ouch, ouch.”

    Oh. How familiar that is.

    Reply
  4. Lori

    Steve, I think you are learning what “joy in the LORD” is, as opposed to “being happy.”

    It may seem a subtle difference, but when you look back and ponder it you see it is really a big transformation, taken in little steps.

    Then, the “holy mallet” is less an impending doom kind of thing, but more of a “life happens but God is in control” attitude. :)

    Keep writing – I so love the way you express your thoughts. I wish I had your wisdom when I was your age!

    Reply
  5. Peter

    I have the exact same thing! Here I am with a great job, all material needs met, gradual improvement in the spiritual life, and all I can do is wonder when the axe is going to fall. God is good, but I can’t shake the feeling that disaster is right around the corner.

    In the past, this actually led me to actively sabotage good things. Used to be I’d even beat any kind of good prayer experience away with a stick, lest good feelings come between me and God; if I’m not sitting there feeling depressed and alone, I’m not praying.

    I think if I dig through all the layers, though, the sentiment underlying the Holy Mallet would be my old friend: “I don’t deserve to be happy”. Son of a gun just refuses to die.

    Reply
  6. Lori

    Oh geez, I’m sorry to spam your comments this morning … but your post reminded me so much of this prayer. The first part is probably familiar to most people, but the second is equally profound:

    The Serenity Prayer
    Path

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.
    Amen.

    –Reinhold Niebuhr

    Reply
  7. Dante

    Hey Steve,

    I feel for you and can relate to the Holy Mallet concept but you know this goy needs to remind you that the idea is really a pile of bupkes and to fall for that line of thinking is mishegas. You are not a schlimazel so don’t be a putz.

    Yeah um this Italian grew up and hung out with a lot of Jewish kids so I hope I properly recalled (and used) the Yiddish correctly.

    Reply
  8. AMT

    I have two very vivid memories from the last year. There were the times I was so unhappy I was sure I could/would never be able to be happy about anything ever again, but I also remember saying, “Holy Cow, God! You really mean I’m going to be totally happy for the rest of my life?” Cause it didn’t feel like there could be any other conclusion to draw. So when I get depressed, I can grit my teeth and wait it out (mindless entertainment helps) and when I’m happy…I just worry about that giant mallet of justice. I say, “So, God, I know I won’t be happy forever, but if you could just stretch it through for these important two weeks, I could totally handle the rest!”

    Reply
  9. Justin

    On the rare occasion I’m feeling good, and a close friend asks me how I’m doing, I sometimes say “I’m between crises.” My life seems to be moving from one crisis to another and when I haven’t had one for a while, I know that something else is coming up.

    Being bipolar, when I’m manic, I definitely feel like all my problems are solved and I am going to be on cloud nine forever. Likewise when I’m depressed, I feel things will never get better.

    Reply
  10. Gabe

    Hey Steve,
    I’ve had some rough times lately and your blog has been great to me with all the inspiration that I get from it, to keep moving on and to still keep strong to your faith.
    This may seem out of the blue and possibly odd, but I’d really like to talk to you sometime, it’d mean a lot to me.
    Thanks for the read

    Reply

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