Monday, January 10, 2022

My Pharisee : Essay by B. Lynne Zika


My Pharisee

Essay by B. Lynne Zika

I have uncovered a Pharisee within me. I suspect we all contain a bit of this rather archetypal character, but it was not a pleasant discovery, brought on when a neighbor of mine disappeared.

Years ago I began to find my trash can mysteriously transported down our steep hill to the county road where pickup occurs. It’s no small task—especially when the bin is full—to brake oneself on the downgrade and avoid being run over by soggy coffee grounds and moldy vegetable peelings. I could never catch the benevolent culprit in the act, however, so one day I wandered northward on a mission.

From the doorway of a dilapidated hodgepodge of a house, my benefactor confessed that yes, it was he who took my trash down for me each week. Such was my introduction to… I’ll call him Jim.

Jim. Toothless. Bald. Maintains constant conversation with himself. That is not, by the way, necessarily a sign of mental illness. We all engage in internal dialogue, though usually not audible to others. However, in a 2017 laboratory experiment, Paloma Mari-Beffa and Alexander Kirkham of Bangor University demonstrated that talking to ourselves out loud actually improves our control over a task.1 So perhaps Jim is simply coaching himself successfully through whatever activity lies at hand.

Sometime before the New Year, Jim stopped coming around, stopped pulling my trash downhill, and didn’t answer my texts. After a few days, I went to investigate. It’s common etiquette in rural areas. You lend a hand to and keep an eye out for your neighbors. There was no sign of Jim, no sign of activity, and no car in the driveway. On impulse I checked his mailbox. Utility bills stamped with warnings. Visions of various disasters shot through my mind. His grey Ford at the bottom of a nearby ravine. His wife’s current boyfriend cleaning an axe. Jim does not lead a dull life.

Fortunately, I soon received a text from him. He’d checked himself into rehab. A cause for celebration, I wrote back, and a helluva way to start a new year.

I then received a text from a close family member of mine. Had Jim ever surfaced? I texted back a few details and mentioned that Jim had seemed appreciative of my small note of praise. My FM wrote back: “Well done on your part. The encouragement helps.”

That is the moment I came face to face with my Pharisee.

My upbringing included an elegant mother who overcame her humble origins. She tended to disapprove if I had friends who were not upper crust. Forty years later, a friend of my daughter commented on our family’s New Year’s tradition: “You guys don’t just break open a six-pack and a bag of pretzels. You have champagne, Brie, and cranberry tarts, for God’s sake.” Try as we might, apples do not fall so far from the tree.

My internal Pharisee does not refer to Jim as “my friend.” S/He prefers charity to friendship.

A psychoanalytically trained friend of mine says that if a gift does not take something away from the giver, it is not a true gift.

As a child, I accompanied my paternal grandfather delivering a Christmas basket to an employee of his. As we were leaving, the man called out, “Thank you, Mr. Lybrand, sir.” I hated every moment of it.

I tried once to explain that to another friend of mine whose church regularly assembled Christmas baskets for “the needy.” I only succeeded in offending her.

My grandfather, at least to my then-young eyes, was a Pharisee sharing something which was a drop in the bucket of his own wealth. He was the gracious giver. Noblesse oblige. He did not call that man a friend.

Can I rout the Pharisee from my own breast? Do I have the breadth of spirit to call Jim my friend?



  1. Totally awesome reading.

  2. The grandfather was giving something extra to his employees. A little bonus. Most businesses and employers do the same today. So do we cut this out or strive for equity of pay and living conditions as the greater solution. And would all consumers like to pay more to support this? Lynne Zika has told a story that has open ends we can burrow into and tease out our own thoughts.