The Pagan Country Gentleman
by Geoffrey Clarfield (June 2010)
WAfter administering an inoculation Dr. Karger would formally usher you into his office which adjoined his treatment room. From the sterile and frightening surgery you were just a few steps from a dignified and well lit room with large windows facing the street, a large European writing table in the middle of the room, large comfortable leather chairs that you sat in as you looked at him across the desk and, an enormous set of glass doored, heavy wooden bookshelves which I have come to recognize as typically Central European.
The other container was a Chinese box which you were allowed to tap in any which way, in order to open the door with the candies. I could never do it. Year in and year out I would fail to pass this test in practical mythology. Dr. Karger would smile enigmatically, tap the box on the side and out would pop the drawer with its candies, ready for the taking. It was understood that you could take only one and eat it on the spot-since it was clear that each patient would get a chance and which I did, year in and year out. I suppose this ritual was his way of saying that the followers of Asculapius still had secrets which must be kept from unknowing suppliants.
Dr. Karger was one of my first representatives of authority. He was the one who looked after my health and it was he who often had to do painful things to me that were a necessary part of staying healthy. I was never mad at him. I was often frightened by what had to be done, but I was never frightened by him. Throughout, his Olympian calm and Germanic sense of order reassured me and gave me the message that I was in fact attended to by my personal physician.
Like Freud and many other German Jews, Paul Karger had absorbed the distilled universal morality of Judaism while letting its ritual and communal sides quietly fall into disuse. At the same time, he put his heart and soul into the Greco Roman search for health and well being and which is at the root of modern family practice.
Geoffrey Clarfield is an Anthropologist at large.
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