The Evil Eye

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I don’t know if Helene Friedman is alive anymore, but I do have fond memories.  About half of what she said was incomprehensibly Yiddish, but I found her antics generally entertaining.  She was quite old and feeble, and an infamous “cat-lady,” who always seemed to just “appear out of thin air” holding two cat carriers.  The few dollar bills she could produce were damp from inside her brassiere, and her glasses were literally taped together.  One thing that sticks with me, after 25 years, is her saying something about “Kinna Hurra,” which she said was so I would not get the evil eye.  It was all a bit of nonsense to me, reminiscent of the “stink eye” mentioned in the movie Juno, or that unpleasant leer Michelle Obama whips out sometimes.  But apparently that’s not at all what she was referring to.

My Rabbi client was in the other day and I mentioned this, and he smiled amusingly at me like my Spanish clients do when I make an attempt at saying something coherent in their language.

“You must mean, ‘Kein Ayin Hora,’ which is the Yiddish version of the Hebrew, ‘Bli Ayin Hara.'”

“Yes, of course that’s surely what I meant,” I smiled back, equally entertained at myself.

“What the heck does it mean?”

The good Rabbi gave me two explanations.

  1. The more traditional describes the “curse” placed on someone who succeeds or attains goals or wealth.  A less fortunate person would look with great jealousy (ayin hara) at his brother and pray to Almighty Gd, complaining of the inequity.  The “evil eye” has effectively placed a “hex.”  The would result in someone acting or showing less evidence of success to avoid such a curse.  Likewise, if complimented, he might say “Kinna Hurra,” or actually spit afterwards, to avoid the curse (apparently evil spirits don’t like spit).  And so when one observes something good happening, he then quickly follows up with this expression, so as not to “jinx” the apparent good outcome.  (I laughed out loud because I remembered Helene actually spitting after uttering her kinnahurra, and how taken back I was that she would do so in my exam room!)
  2. The explanation he said he liked better was deeper, and probably more meaningful to me, as a Christian.  “One of your ‘Catholic Books’ is called Tobit  (I nodded, because  I had recently read these 7 books tossed during the reformation, and remembered it pretty well).  Well Tobit, as well as Proverbs, refers to the concept of the ‘eye’ as a window, letting in light.”

But the ancients also thought of the eye another way, as lights shining interior light of the body.  Psalm 38 talks about ‘eyes as having lost their luster.’  Of course you are thinking in medical terms, Dr. Bill, but this isn’t scientific, or medical.  It’s the observation that someone’s eyes show their inner character.

I shared that Matthew and Luke both talk about the eyes showing light or darkness within.  The Rabbi smiled approvingly, and continued,

So, Matthew and Luke make more sense now – if the eye is generous, it is bright and the body is filled with interior light or goodness. But if the eye is set on cursing others, the body is full of darkness.

And so, my friend, the little old woman in your memory was not only wishing you well, but paying you the highest compliment.  She felt you were generous and had treated her kindly.

I thought of Helene recently, which is probably why this story was in my mind when the Rabbi came in.  I was on a bus at the North American Veterinary Conference, shuttling between the two meeting venues when I looked over to the other side of the road to see an elderly woman running with a hand-written cardboard sign.  In her other hand she held a pet carrier that she was swinging wildly.  This strange sight caught the attention of the bus-load full of veterinarians, until the cage door sprung open and her few clothes and possessions fell to the ground.  Many people in nearby cars seemed amused, smiling as they looked away, but my stomach fell to the floor, as I continued to watch.  She dropped the broken cage and started wiping her face, over and over again, as her tears continued to stream down her cheeks.  As she placed her glasses back on her face, I saw the tape holding them together.

As the light changed to green, my bus rolled away, and I smiled to see brake-lights of someone stopping to help her.

And so, the eyes are the window to the inner character, and perhaps the soul itself.

Do we look away with Ayin Hara, an evil eye of inner darkness, or do we look compassionately with Ken Ayin Hara, a generous eye shining with an inner light?

I’ll continue to fail miserably, I’m sure.  However, I am beginning to recognize Him along my own journey to Emmaus.  I’m reminded of a prayer shared with me by a Jesuit at Whitehouse Retreat in St. Louis:

Lord, keep me ever mindful, that we are always in your presence.

 

Image result for homeless woman with cat  Beautiful Eye

 

Road to Emmaus

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Everyone who knows me, knows that I have a horrible memory.  Not just, “Where did I put my car keys?” or “Crap, I forgot why I came in here” type of bad memory, rather more like, “I could hide my own Easter eggs!”  I could watch the same movie ten times and be shocked each time at the ending!

So, I dread seeing clients in public.  As a veterinarian, I form personal relationships with my clients, and get to know them, their children, and their pets – often a very real part of their family.  People appreciate when you connect with them, and I do genuinely love my job and (most of) my clients and their “families.”  So when I greet them by name and remember their kids, and that their cat purrs on Grandpa’s lap and the dog digs up the daffodils and enjoys leg humping Uncle Donnie, and never left Maggies side when she had cancer surgery, I get to show them that I understand, and that I’m honored to also be included in their family’s story.  But remember, I have “crib notes” or “cheat sheets” called a medical chart.  I’ve not only read “Otis’s medical notes, but also the post-it notes attached that remind me of the personal stuff.  Please know that I am truly interested in you personally and your family, but frankly, I do well to remember my own Kayla’s swim meet this weekend, or that I agreed to pick up printer ink for Noah’s book report on my home tonight.

So that explains the “deer in the headlights” look in my eyes when I see you at the grocery store, as I cheerfully blurt out, “OH Hi!! How ARE you???!!!”  But, I really don’t have a clue who you are.  Now I do know you look familiar, and so you probably are a client, and I very much appreciate that you like me, and I truly do like you also.  Because I like everyone, or most people anyway.  And I really and truly DO wish I could remember stuff like that, because you really ARE important to me – and not just professionally, because you pay the bills.  No, much more so because I believe “we’re all in this together,” and I do enjoy your company and your stories.

But that’s the sort of stuff that settled into my mind as I listened to Luke’s gospel today about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Apparently, these were two guys that were with Jesus daily, were His friends, and actually saw Him perform miracles.  The loved Him dearly as a friend, broke bread with Him, and actually heard Him say the words of everlasting life, that He would be resurrected and come back.  And yet these two disciples, who knew Him so well, didn’t know Him after all.  They didn’t recognize Him at all as they walked down the road for miles.  Only that night, when they again broke bread together did the light bulb go on.

Which is a pretty transparent segway to my own road.  Where is Emmaus anyway?  I guess none of us know exactly where this road will end, but I truly have learned that we encounter our Lord multiple times on this journey.

An therein lies my real dread.  When I don’t recognize Christ in those I encounter, I’ve lost that opportunity forever to impact that person’s life.  How many times have I walked on past my Lord, too busy to care, too focused on myself and my family, too forgetful to remember that I really do know this stranger.

As I begin my Camino de Santiago in 14 days, I’ll try to remember that those I’ll encounter are already friends.  And when I return, I can only hope that I will have learned some valuable lessons.  But most importantly, I desire a better ability to remember the one I’m actually looking for.

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