The tendency to write about my own Fridays rather than others' has always been pronounced as there is something about another's Friday activity that is so — what do I want to say? — not me. In recent months it has become even more pronounced. I have been living with my son. Some regular readers may be familiar with him, know that he is in his late 20s and dealing with severe mental illness — though he is dealing with it well. The problem with outside activities, Fridays or any other time, is that my son is reluctant to do them. (It is difficult to get him to leave a well-trodden few blocks near the apartment, but that's getting better.) Leaving him on his own can be problematic: he overeats as a result of medication he must take and the uncertainty of solitude.
It is alarming and sad to come home to find empty food packets strewn around the kitchen and my son's weight no doubt up another few pounds. I can hardly get angry; he does try to curb this side-effect craving, and he always says he'll be fine, that he does not worry or get anxious when I am gone, but I suspect this is an aspect of Schiz-Affect Disorder, which pretty much makes him blind to any emotion including worry, fearfulness. I have not seen him cry, for example, since he was ten years old.
This past Thursday night he woke me from a dead sleep about 11:30 p.m. and asked me, "Have you prayed about your headache?"
"Uh, no. It wasn't that bad, and I don't really pray about that sort of thing." I was blinking into the hall light and scrutinizing him for signs of another "episode." I immediately wanted to ask him if he was up to date on his meds, but that has pretty much become translatable as, "You're sounding nuts."
"Well, I was meditating really well about it, and something told me to share that energy with you right away."
"Oh, well...cool." I had just broken a New Year's resolution by saying that. "My headache's gone, actually. Thank you. That may have worked."
"Sorry to wake you up."
"No. No, that's fine."
The next day a friend left a voice mail about Friday being some ecumenical prayer day, and one church that was observing was nearby. I'd been there for 12-step meetings. I planned to make a bid for getting him out that Friday night to see what it was about, but something happened that was unusual and very welcome. A friend of his from North County agreed to come over and "hang" with Justin (as I call him here, or Jason or something), and this never happens. Since my son's difficulties -- his hospitalization and a year in a board-and-care home -- a half dozen or so friends had largely blown him off. J. has been painfully aware of his pariah status as a result. That, coupled with his obesity and natural shyness has left him isolated at an age when most young men are sewing wild oats in conventionally deranged ways.
When Lars, his friend, arrived, I wanted to kiss him. The two of them pursued nerdy things at Frys Electronics, Wal-Mart, cruised the malls, and returned to J.'s room to check out his painted fantasy figures, which he had photographed lovingly with his new digital camera. They then settled in for a few hours of the RPG game Warcraft.
I isolated myself in my room, working on a longer nonfiction account of my son's story and also a very therapeutic fictional account where I can safely deal with otherwise unfaceable fears. I read some of a Kingsley Amis memoir, skipping to a chapter about his friendship with Anthony Burgess to see how much the two might have drunk together — or how much Amis might admit to. I then watched a truly bad movie called Beat, with Keifer Sutherland as William S. Burroughs, and Courtney Love as his wife, Joan Vollmer. The one thought-provoking aspect of that waste of time was that if Courtney Love was really cast as resembling, in any way, Burroughs's real life spouse, then it would go a long way in explaining why Burroughs shot her in the head.
All the while, I barely poked my head out the door, resisting the overwhelming temptation to be a regular guy Dad, order a pizza, pull out a Strawberry Alarm Clock album, and say things like, "Hey! You dogs ever dig these cats? Heh, heh...Dogs, cats... How about an ice-cold Coca-Cola?"
In a way I was secretly glad to have missed the prayer gathering. While there may be more power in mass prayer than the lone brand, I have always felt uncomfortable with what I feel to be public displays of piety. It's why I hesitate to make the sign of the cross on the street or in a restaurant. For a while I asked myself, is it because I don't wish to proclaim myself one of the intellectually weak, a designation I more or less lumped all believers into, back when I knew far more than I do now? No. It's way past that. It now, just as ridiculously of course, is a matter of, "Look, Ma. I'm holy." When my girlfriend of many years asked me to pray with her on a few occasions, I responded by saying, "No, I'd feel like Nixon and Kissinger." I have many problems, and I still feel more or less okay with blaming a bunch of them on Nixon.
So, I missed observing a kind of day of world prayer, from what I gather (forgive my ignorance); but the conflict involved was one of either actively praying or reveling in the phenomenon of prayer answered very quietly, very naturally, very well.