Thursday, April 17, 2008

Elizabeth Wurtzel writes on American Rehab

Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote to The Main Point blog...

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy thought there was no place like home. But really there’s no place like rehab: you check in, they give you a backless hospital gown to wear, the orderlies bring you cranberry juice, the nurses check your vital signs every few hours, and no matter what you say, everyone says, I understand.
This is quite a change from a life in which, if you’ve been drinking and drugging to excess and generally running the engine, everybody has been telling you, I don’t understand. Yes, most of what the common drug addict most commonly hears for the weeks or months or years leading up to rehab is the common phrase, I don’t understand. Certainly, if you are an underage Miss USA out on a binge, if you are Congressman Mark Foley sending lascivious text messages to an underage page, or if you are Mel Gibson screaming anti-Semitic slurs at the cops, one can only hope that someone is saying, I don’t understand. But of course this is terribly tiring. So you go to rehab, where everyone understands—and plies you with Ocean Spray.
This is the last act of contrition the public bully pulpit will put up with any longer, the final frontier of forgiveness, and even at that it is an iffy sorry on both sides, neither quite meaning it all the way. The penitent posits that drugs made her do it, and we accept her back into straight society on condition of a twenty-eight day in-patient penance: it’s the new rate of apology exchange, and everyone knows it’s nonsense but goes along with it because it’s still twelve steps beyond the simple sorry.
The simple sorry, of course, used to suffice. Richard Nixon could remain in the race for the Vice President by making the maudlin Checkers speech; Bill Clinton could stay President by saying he couldn’t conjugate to be, that he didn’t know what is is. But no more. Now you must check yourself in, and either go through the motions or make the most of it: rehab is a genuine revelation for the genuine of heart. But will it be for Miss USA?
The idea of running for cover is not new. The Old Testament, in the Book of
Numbers, orders the Israelites to establish the city of refuge—eir miklat in Hebrew—where an accidental killer could flee to evade the wrath of the next of kin in the wake of his sin. Six such retreats were to be built on either side of the Jordan River for the man who erred. In his Torah commentary, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald sees these cities of refuge as proof that the Bible was preternaturally compassionate and prehistorically ahead of its time. The eir miklat was a place where sinful citizens could, as Rabbi Buchwald puts it, “undergo rehabilitation,” and the process was “the equivalent of ‘group therapy.’”
Perhaps Mel Gibson should reconcile with the Jews after all.
posted with the author's permission by James Linville