Monday, March 26, 2012

The Ego, the Devil and Flip Wilson's Dress

I recently heard a quote from Deepak Chopra that the Ego is the source of belief in the devil. He claims that when we need an outside source to blame for our thoughts or actions, our Ego invents the devil--in fact, the Ego is the devil!

Many years ago, I read C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. While the premise was amusing, I never believed in the devil as a separate entity that hovered around and enticed me to eat my sister's cookie.

However, my dad, a staunch German Lutheran, believed in the devil. I know this because of his elderly father's suicide. It was Memorial Day weekend in 1952. I was almost 12 years old.

We were packing for our annual weekend fishing trip to Glenwood Minnesota when the call came. I answered the phone on the dining room wall and it was my aunt. I could tell by the tone of her voice something was very wrong. (Of course, the very nature of a long-distance call was alarming in those days.) I called my mom to the phone and she immediately called my dad who was working at his construction site. He rushed home and called his sister back.

After the phone conversation, he said to my mom, "He went out in the garage and hung himself. It was the Devil, for sure!"

I was heartsick. Not because of any affection for the old man but because it was going to spoil the one and only vacation we ever took. Now, I must explain that my grandfather had never spoken a single word to me or my siblings. He was a sullen, immobile figure always sitting in a living room chair, brooding. When we went for a visit, he would say hello to my mom if she addressed him, he would exchange small talk with my dad if pressed into it, but he never, ever spoke to us kids. Once, around the age of 7, I summoned up the courage to go up to him and say, Hi. He pointedly ignored me. I never bothered again.

As it turned out, since other relatives were handling the funeral arrangements, we were able to fit in the lakeside weekend anyway. When we went back for the funeral, they had returned grandpa's corpse--in its coffin--to the living room of the house. It was just a few feet away from the chair where he had spent his declining years. He was moved to the church for the first funeral I ever attended.

As I have gotten older and wiser, and perhaps more understanding, it seems likely that my grandfather was suffering from Alzheimer's. The devil had nothing to do with it

All of this brings to mind the wonderfully funny Flip Wilson's TV show back in the 70's. His delightful character, Geraldine, would strut around in Mod clothes and Gogo boots and proclaim, "The devil made me buy this dress!"  Whether that was Ego or devil, everybody loved it.



John Going Gently said...

yes the devil gets over blamed a little too much! mind you today its just verbal laziness rather than real belief I think!

Joanne Noragon said...

I think we harbor our own devils. Your grandfather was unhappy and could not or would not see a way to change.Either he had a lot of ego, or for twelve years you only knew an old man with Alzheimer's disease.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Interesting! Lately we find ourselves explaining the basic concepts of Good/Evil, God/Devil to 3- and 5-year olds. Without locking it into churchy concepts. So far they seem to comprehend that there is evil in the world, and that some people blame the devil. Also that while it may be fun to pretend to be Darth Vader, you don't want to go over to the Dark Side in real life. :-) Hmm, maybe I should blog about that.

Ms Sparrow said...

John Gray--It's easier to put the evil onto an outside force than conceive of the evil coming from a sick mind. It's probably a lot more fun to cast out demons.

Joanne--Grandpa might well have just been a hard-hearted man. My dad talked about what a harsh parent he was.

Blissed--I would love to read your take on the subject of the devil vs Darth Vader. Of course, Vader repented upon his death, I believe!

Moving with Mitchell said...

A touching and fascinating post. And I love the ending! Very UN-sobering.

Linda Starr said...

I was thinking he was depressed because I think if it was Alzheimers he wouldn't have had the forethought to commit suicide, so sad a life he had and so sad he couldn't appreciate his grandchildren.