Blessing My Enemy

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

This afternoon I learned of the death of one of my former professors, Raimund Abraham.  He was an architect from Austria who taught at Cooper Union, where I spent the first two years of college.  In studio and critique, he loved to digress into diatribe about the violence of tectonics, the dialectics of form, and his cats.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Abraham (as we knew him) was both immensely talented and immensely troubled.  He ran his studio with a gleeful sadism, promising us we wouldn't sleep for days and lambasting us with choice expletives when we got too relaxed and seemed to be enjoying ourselves.  He frequently told us we were stupid, foolish, and would never succeed in architecture, and he failed or forced withdrawal on many to prove himself right.  In his furor, he ripped drawings off the wall and snapped carefully-assembled models into pieces to "fix" them.  He gave tacit approval to ideas and then turned on a dime to skewer them later.  He never gave specific assignments, but he expected us to work until we passed out or injured ourselves using box cutters and power tools in a sleep-deprived state.  He took evident pleasure in belittling and slandering others, both behind their backs and to their faces.  He could sense fear better than a wild dog, and if it was present he would capitalize on it, refusing to give his approval even when we bent over backwards to win it.

He made us cry, and not just the women.  His abuse made my father say, "I can't remember the last time I just wanted to deck someone," and a pious, devout friend called him "the reason they invented" a certain seven-letter word.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

This man almost singlehandedly drove me away from architecture.  Worse, he made me question my faith in God, the faith that had sustained me through a childhood I now realize was wonderfully uneventful.  Where was God when Raimund Abraham, who didn't seem to like anybody, decided to teach a class full of young, idealistic teenagers who wanted to change the world -- and instead turned to cigarettes and shrinks to cope with their feelings of worthlessness and despair?  Where was God when we failed crit after crit, unable to produce something he would like and frightened for our academic future with expulsion forever on the table?  When we got sick and depressed, flung ourselves into loveless relationships and rejected the advances of friends and family members who worried about us?  When I had the darkest thoughts of my life (and even wished for the courage to end it), desperate to prove to someone, anyone, that I was the smart, funny, creative person I knew myself to be?

At one time I would have said quite freely that Abraham ruined my life.  He certainly brought my dream of living and working in New York to an abrupt close; when I took a leave of absence from Cooper Union, from which I never returned, I couldn't afford to stay in the city, and by then it held so many painful memories that I was happy to leave.  Years of antidepressants and therapy helped, and I can honestly say I've forgiven him, but the pain is still there, the insults and taunts embedded deeply in my memory.  That time is a part of me now, a part that will never go away, like the dot of rapidograph ink  just below the skin on the palm of my right hand, another wound born of late-night drawings and despair.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

"The world is your enemy," Abraham once told me during a critique.  It seemed to imply, within the context of the entire tirade, that this is why he was so hard on us: he wanted the weak to crumble away and the strong to conquer all.  And he succeeded.  I never had the heart to return to architecture school, partly for fear that my awful experience might repeat itself at a different institution.  This failure remains one of the biggest embarrassments of my life.  I will forever have to explain to people that I started architecture school, but didn't finish it; that I received C's and D's and F's when I had put forth my best effort, all that I had.  That I couldn't succeed, no matter what I did; no matter how much I prayed and wheedled and fumed and sobbed, my best wasn't enough.

I thank God for that experience.  I thank God for teaching me, through Raimund Abraham, that the world is a fallen place; that we should never be too comfortable here, too used to getting what we want and think we deserve.  I thank God every time my husband teases me about dropping out of architecture school, or my students ask why I changed majors halfway through college, or a friend remarks on the photographs of the East Village that grace my kitchen, the only visible reminders of that wretched time.  It was a time when I had nothing and no one to turn to, when I was friendless and alone in a city that was happy to continue on without me, and it was a time when I realized that suffering is a blessing -- that it is only through doubt that we learn to have faith, only in torment that we learn to have peace.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon the soul of your servant Raimund Abraham, a sinner.  And as the first among sinners, I beg you to have mercy on me.

Prayer by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. Originally published in Prayers by the Lake, Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of New Gracanica, 1999.