Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

“Pure and chaste … from afar”

Posted by Ron Coleman on December 23, 2007

It’s the end of the year, auld lang syne and all that, so I am indulging in some more “best of” posting, perhaps through New Year’s, in addition to the constant, irresistible stream of stunningly original material.

The post reprinted below was among the first published on this blog. It came up while I was searching for something totally unrelated for purposes of a cross-reference. It turns out, however, not only to be a post I really remember liking — if only because I had finally expressed a thesis, complete with the Murray Slaughter reference, I’d been contemplating for decades — but because it utilizes a quote from Rabbi Israel Salanter that I used (having forgotten about it) about a week ago in this post; when I published the piece below, I had been unable to find its source.

Ultimately I also feel this post has something valuable to say about the way people struggle for ways to resolve their passionate need for connection, and when that need must be denied, however painful, in deference to other spiritual needs and moral priorities. In that respect it may remind regular readers of the theme of the “singing” post I put up late last week. The good news is, this one is much shorter, and a lot less purple. I have, however, added one additional sentence upon reflection.

Thank God, I have a lot more people reading my little thoughts now than when I wrote this one, so perhaps this merits a second look:

Dawn Eden, more than a little interested in the subject, clarifies the word chaste:

[E]veryone is supposed to observe chastity according to their state in life, so there’s single chastity and there’s married chastity. Chastity is really a way to look at all your relationships so that they no longer become mere exchanges of commodities. It’s a plan for your whole life, for your happiness, and for eventually going to heaven. I look at chastity as a way to practice what it’s like to be in heaven.

Huh — live and learn. It reminds me of the Jewish concept of tzeniuth, which is usually translated as “modesty” (typically alluding to modesty in matters of dress) but which I learned really means “dignity.”

There is one use of the word “chaste,” though, that I will always remember. It was on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, when Murray Slaughter — the crypto-Jewish copywriter played by Gavin McLeod — his heart filled to bursting, finally has to tell Mary that he’s in love with her. (This was before McLeod became captain of, ironically, the Love Boat.) Mary, perpetually single but very desirable, expresses how flattered she is and gently reminds Murray that he’s married (thus avoiding the more painful truth that he’s not in her league). Murray, the literary romantic, resolves it by assuring her that he knows this, he loves his wife, and that he will still always love Mary (“Myeh-ry” as he says it; the Jewish part of his character is not played out as Rhoda Morgenstern’s is, but with that accent in Minneapolis, and his literary pretensions, it’s pretty clear) “pure and chaste from afar.”

I found that very touching, and of course somewhat sad, but also was impressed by the level of maturity that Murray showed in making this acknowledgment. I must have been impressed — I am sure I saw that episode about 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me. Still and all, the higher service for Murray would have been to keep his feelings to himself — this would truly have been pure and chaste and, especially, “afar.” In Jewish sensibility we call this k’rivath hadaath, literally, “the bringing-close of the mind” — for such a revelation of one’s feelings about another, regardless of acceptance or rejection, opens up new mental gateways between the two people in conversation. The Torah teaches us that merely expressing something verbally, among other things, can cross a line of the heart, breach a wall of emotional propriety that protects far more than mere emotions.

How more so is this true for the Murray Slaughters of the world, who can readily make words express what is in their hearts and by so doing open the hearts of others as well.

Murray, in fact, pushes the point and cannot restrain himself from asking Mary if the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately in his case, it isn’t. So she kind of says, “I love ya, buddy” and bear hugs him as his aunt might, thereby bursting his bubble — not as if he could ever have dared to think otherwise.

Yes, Murray would have been better nurturing, or neutering, his secret love secretly. I wish I could remember in whose name I saw this bit of doggerel — it went something like this: “Not everything that is said should be written; not everything that is thought, should be said.” Imagine where the blogosphere would be with such a worldview; and yet this golden rule — and not merely whether my swinging fist implodes your visage — is , perhaps, the very minimum guideline of a civilized, i.e., social, person. Perhaps this too it is of a piece with Dawn’s definition of chastity.


6 Responses to ““Pure and chaste … from afar””

  1. jaymaster said

    I didn’t think it possible at the time, but I love you even more today than when you first made this post….

    In all seriousness, this hits much closer to home the second time around. And I’ve debated keeping silent about this too, but here goes.

    Since your original post, I have been completely smitten by a coworker. She works 500 miles away, but we chat and email daily. And we see each other 8-10 times a year. Often on business trips, and that can be trouble.

    Some things have changed over the years. She actually played the Murray role here, and broached the subject first. We’ve known each other for 7 years, and the sparks were there from day one. But as we got to know each other better, it has grown over the years to the point of obviousness.

    I’m 42, she’s 40. We’re both married (second time for both). We both love our jobs. And we’re both generally happy with where our lives have brought us. She’s got one child, but I’ve got none. Neither of us is very religious, or prudish. But after our little talk, we’ve agreed to never go beyond a friendly hug. So we are still “pure and chaste from afar”.

    It’s painful sometimes, especially in this day and age. I’m generally content with life, but still I always wonder, could I be happier? Sometimes I think its best to just put the thought out of my head and move on. Other times, I think I should ponder it, and work through the what-ifs and the possible scenarios.

    In legal terms, the preponderance of evidence tells me I’m doing the right thing here. But I’m still not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Or maybe my doubts aren’t reasonable? Anyway, I sleep well at night, and that’s probably as good a positive indicator as any.

    I think its situations like this where it would be helpful to have religious beliefs to fall back on, if only to help assure me that I’m making the right decision. The experience I have gained over the years tells me I am. And I am thankful I have access to the accumulated wisdom passed down through the ages by the various religions, and more recent secular histories. That’s a big help. But sometimes it’s just not enough. That touch of faith in rewards in the hereafter can tip a lot of scales.

  2. Gosh, Jay. Thanks for your comments, again. Watch those hugs, though.

  3. Jack said

    I was gonna say something, but I didn’t.

    Ah, what the hell…
    It’s Christmas Eve…

    Men in our wandering will wonder
    What the wonder within us will bring,
    Will life knit together, or sunder
    When our wonder transforms into things,

    I reckon no man can be happy
    And I reckon no man can be sad,
    Til he knows with a certain what happens
    When his dreams become that which he has,

    And I’d like to say beware of knowing,
    But how can you know if you don’t –
    But what our wonder just might not be showing
    Is that everything carries our wont,

    Now what do you mean when you’re saying
    That desire can sire ourselves?
    I reckon that trust is conveying
    That I is not found in themselves,

    Days and in nights we make plainest
    What desires will live on in us,
    But not just within what is stated
    Will the blade of desire so thrust,

    Our desires give real to our actions
    Our actions give real to the world,
    Some caution in all our abstractions
    When desire is freely unfurled,

    Now man cannot tame where his heart roams
    For the heart is so often quite wild,
    But he can assure true what his heart homes
    If he conquers what wont has so riled,

    Now why bother to better control that
    Which the heart has first stirred to arouse?
    Are not all things such first when so begat
    That we must find a way to allow?

    Every man to his answer must make him
    And no other will make such a choice,
    But before taking cup to the top brim
    Consider all gains bring some loss,

    And if loss to yourself is the standard
    Then risk to yourself may prevail,
    But if others must pay when you pander
    Then some heavens just may lead to hell,

    Now is love ever bad in our best dreams
    I suspect that it pro’bly is not,
    But does best in this world always happen
    Despite what the heart does allot?

    So perhaps men are more than desire
    And the heart more than merely a’flame,
    And some loves may exist to attire
    What will never be known by acclaim,

    But comfort yourself with this habit
    That not all things will be shown in this world,
    But that is the world we inhabit
    And the hope which within us lays curled.

  4. jaymaster said


    Is that original?

    It sure sounds like you.

    I think I get it, and I know I like it.

  5. Why is this being stuffed into the comments of an obscure blog?!

  6. Jack said

    “Is that original?”

    It’s me, though I’ve already found one line is off-meter.
    I’ll correct that in the final draft.

    “I think I get it,”

    Well, that makes one of us…

    “Why is this being stuffed into the comments of an obscure blog?!”

    You got me, that’s just the way I work.

    I can’t write poems about how the creamy bubbles in my latte (I hope I’m spelling that right, I don’t drink lattes, I just drink coffee) make me get all metaphysical and weepy poetic, or about my favorite red cardigan and how the clever weaving really symbolizes the fall of the Roman Empire or the dystopia of modern life. I can’t do any of that modern stuff.

    But, whenever I see something from real life I can vomit one out, Johnny-on-the-spot. A verse or two based on my own experiences, or things I have encountered. Or studied, or so forth. Sometimes even based on experiences of my buddies and friends. I don’t know why but if the mood or the muse strikes me then I just think in poems. Sometimes I can think in math, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in symbols. And sometimes iffin I’m really lucky, not at all.

    This one took about ten minutes, with another ten of editing, but I also missed the meter glitch.

    Doesn’t mean I didn’t put effort into it, I did. I try to put my best effort in anything I write, unless it is a joke, and then I get really serious. Because comedy makes me laugh.

    Anywho I plan on trying to publish a book of my poems this upcoming year, along with some of my fictional stuff and a non-fiction book on Intel and espionage work I’ve been writing for awhile. But to tell you the truth, the way most people look at poetry, and the way most modern poets have emasculated the form, I expect to make about as much money on this blog peddling the stuff as I will get off the book. So here is as good a place as any. I figure I might break even that way. But if it bothers you then I’ll run my first drafts somewhere else. It won’t bother me any if it bothers you, I’m easy that way. Heck, I’m easy most anyway if she dresses right.

    Well, the whole family is a coming down, and although my old man is still alive, I’ve become something of the family patriarch now, since I now own the family estate and all. So I gotta go do me up a big fat turkey with all the fixins. And I also gotta try and repair whatever my wife tried to cook while she ain’t lookin. Iffin I can.

    You folks take care and see ya on the flip side.

    Get in some gravy for me, will ya?

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