Modern medicine needs no accolade from me since its genius is already universally respected, celebrated and — for want of a more apt word – enjoyed!
There is, however, another mighty though unorthodox alleviator of human suffering, an instinctive and natural defense against pain from which multitudes constantly derive strength, determination and the will to go on! Because it is speculative and shadowy, with occasional ignominious aspects, it is never celebrated; indeed, it is often denigrated.
So I here boldly step forward and recognize the worldwide universal usefulness, potency and applicability of the kvetch.
The word, which serves as both noun and verb, is originally from the German meaning to squeeze or press, and comes to us via Yiddish in its American adaptation. It simply means THE COMPLAINT or, perhaps, THE WHINE. Basic to any genuine kvetching is always the sufferer’s immediate desperate search for solace, for a reason why this mishap happened to him.
All right, so you turned your ankle; you chipped a tooth; no matter how much you eat you’re pitifully underweight; you’ve been diagnosed as pregnant, tubercular, spotted with measles, hallucinating; you show alarming unmistakable signs of elephantiasis or cholera!
If you’re a true kvetch, your very first thought is, “Who wished this on me?” And the question immediately will bring forth relief in an avalanche of suspects. You’ll feel better!
Very often these suspects are familiar, the same troublesome dramatis personae you believe have bullocksed up your whole life. In my childhood they included the detested landlord to whom we usually owed rent money, shopkeepers to whom we usually owed money, hostile neighbors, and certain wealthy relatives, who disdained us. These folks seemed to be the most likely causes of all of our suffering. The more they scorned us, the more assuredly we suspected them when disaster struck, and then, almost immediately, the better we felt. We quickly and silently composed maledictions, suitably addressed. Like: This should only happen to you, too. Double!
Your teeth should rot. You should lose your wallet on payday; maybe fall off a horse, a very big high horse; trip on your own shoelace! You should gain so much weight your zippers will pop! You should wake up one morning with acne, have a frizzy permanent. Every pair of shoes you buy should pinch your toes!
These kvetches, each totally unrelated to the mishap suffered, were comforting because of their glorious malevolence. Some family favorites: “May you stumble on your very next step,” and “May you choke on the next bite you take.”
Usually silently composed and mentally conveyed, during great crises, kvetches are sometimes actually spoken. Muttered quickly beneath the breath, these ill wishes prove incredible restoratives; they hearten the sufferer. However, when actually spoken aloud, it is necessary for the sufferer to be able to run should he be overheard.
Bold connoisseurs of the kvetch who practice the art regularly, are true believers who do not flinch before their dangerous task. They think what they think and say what they think and it speeds them and their recovery.
Alas, though I am a kvetch I am not bold enough. Though I learned the art early from skilled elders, I am a coward. But I do try. To this very day, whenever fate takes a shot at me, a kvetch is my instinctive first recourse.
Yes, to kvetch is to vent without holding back, to think the impossible and dream the unthinkable. Who wished this on me? is always my first thought, as I stop the bleeding or brush myself off. Then, at once, I begin to consider the possibilities: people who have done me dirty, people I don’t trust. May it happen to you double, I think, viciously. Assessing various selected evil-wishers, I mull the situation over endlessly. This effort really assuages my suffering and promotes healing. I know it is outside the parameters of modern medicine, but it helps, and it comforts me and it keeps me occupied.
I do know the basics for a good kvetch; helpful phrases and key accusations, and good targets; for example: the vicious colleague, the idiotic boss, the unfeeling teacher, the klutz. (One must lay the blame suitably.)
Usually, I end up going to the doctor, but only after I have already started the healing process with this universal, satisfying, mental Band-Aid.