Saturday, September 03, 2011

Notes Of A Distraught Woman

[Blue woman image based upon photo by Peter Delory. From the cover of Living With Your Husband's Secret Wars by Marsha Means.]

I'm a single male atheist. So why did I pick up a self-help book intended for Christian wives with marital problems?

The notes.

I found the book in a cardboard box on the sidewalk, buried in a jumble of other titles. The FREE BOX sometimes offers intriguing works that the used book store tosses out, not seeing any value.

Apparently the woman who purchased the self-help book didn't want it either, even though she marked it up with her handwritten notes, personal reactions to points raised by the author. It was an opportunity to glimpse into the mind of a devout Christian seeking answers through her faith.

From what I gathered the note-writer was upset that her husband was cheating on her -- mentally, not physically. He enjoyed pornography.

Yes, even thinking about sin is a sin. That's what they told me when I was brought up as a Catholic. It didn't surprise me to see that claim years later after I had "lapsed" from the church. I worked nights as a part-time janitor at a Catholic high school. In one room there was a poster with a list of points and warnings, telling the young students how to look and act. A key point: As soon as an impure thought enters your mind, put it out of your mind -- as soon as you think it. Or you'll have committed sin.

(The poster also said male students had to be clean-shaven, hair cut short. The nun principal didn't like me because I had a beard. I worked for a contract cleaner, not the school per se, so there was nothing she could do even though she believed that only Jesus and the saints were entitled to facial hair.)

I didn't agree with the premise that thought = sin but it was obvious the note-writer was hurt that her husband enjoyed porn and the fantasies that went with it.

She had listed on the inside back cover terms she equated with pornography. Besides "sexual sin," she considered porn as "adultery/infidelity," "extramarital sexual activity," "breach of vows," "sex addiction," "self-destructive behavior," and "sickness of the soul."

The note-writer also underlined and checkmarked many passages in the text. In one section an upset wife tells her story, relating how her attitude, anger, didn't change towards her unfaithful husband; it was sinful. The note-writer observed in the margin: "My unmoving attitude is sin!" Once again, bad thoughts are sin.

But the note-writer didn't always agree with the points raised in the book. One expert stated that forgiving a sinner too quickly can make the other person an enabler, continuing a cycle of forgiveness followed by more betrayal. Observed the note-writer: "Not always -- forgiveness is what gave me the courage and determination to change."

In another section the author states that the wayward husband has to show responsibility, remorse, and spiritual growth as part of the reunion process. But the note-writer remarked: "I see none of these. I see denial, lies, deception and an empty heart." On another page she wrote: "I still feel that there are secrets, not exposed to the light." Elsewhere I came across the word ANGER, emphasized with a circle, almost carved into the margin with her pen.

At one point the note-writer has a list of things she wants to say to her husband -- what she appreciates about him, what she needs from him, and finally, a request to pray together.

Towards the end of the book her notes suddenly stop. Like a used textbook that a college student dutifully marks up and highlights until he reaches the point where he is distracted by campus life or decides the course is bullshit.

In a number of places the letters PRSG are written in the margins, referring to peer recovery support group. Maybe through such a group the note-writer found some answers and that's why she no longer needed the book, no longer compelled to pen her thoughts in the margins.


X. Dell said...

(1) I'm thinking that she discarded the book because she no longer needed. The very reading of it was a cathartic experience for it, given your description. Moreover, she might have seen parts of it as impractical, or just plain wrong (I actually appreciate the occasional dissent in the notes).

(2) Is there a better definition of 'thought crime'? Moreover, your experience with the RC Church, both as a former member and as a janitor, seems to imply that thinking of sin, going against accepted grooming codes (especially if you had long hair too), were almost the same thing.

I went to a Catholic grade school, and--as I was wont to do--I began to read up about communism. When I innocently mentioned to Sr. CA that I was having trouble understanding why everyone hated communism....

You can imagine the response I got. And Sr. CA had this tendency to turn bright red when fully angered.

Marvin the Martian said...

I think writing in books is a sin.

Group therapy's biggest benefit is showing you that there are many more people who are much more fucked up than you are.