The emotional (and divine) side of what’s happening

Posts to-date have all been factual, and that’s what I really wanted this blog to be for my family and friends – I wanted to keep them all in the loop, and maybe a little distant from the emotions that swirl around this, because they’re everywhere and they are so intense they are difficult to manage. So I really haven’t included any of the short side stories of a more personal nature, though I will. But I wanted to share one from tonight.

This evening, I was doing research at cancer.gov, where they wrote that 80-90% of AML patients go into complete remission after chemotherapy. 10-20% have relapses – most are older people. For people who do not get treatment, for people who at this stage in the disease such as I am at right now, they have an estimated 3 to 4 months to live. I broke down and cried. From the moment I heard the news that I had Leukemia, I struggled with a crisis of faith.

My family is planning a reunion for June – inviting relatives from all over. There was concern about one of the matriarchs attending. She had become quite ill and no one was sure if she would make it through to June. I cried tonight with my mom, because I realized that though this cousin had died, I would have been the cousin who would have died right before the reunion putting everything in jeopardy had I not actually gone and sought help.

My mother chalked it up to divine intervention.

But there is another part to this story.

On the Jewish Day of Repentence, Yom Kippur, we chant many incantations about who shall live, and who shall die, who by fire, who by water, who by heat, who by cold, etc.. It’s a long list. And after I got the diagnosis, all I kept thinking was I was on the die side of this equation.

But as my mom and a visiting hospital rabbi pointed out, we are reminded that teshuvah (repentence), tefilah (prayer), and tzedakah (acts of charity or compassion) will annul the severity of the decree.

But I didn’t do enough repentence. What? my incredulous friends are shouting. Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur … Yes – but in my prayers, was I as focussed as I could have been? Honest? Truthful? Yes. Soul searching? No. There are still times when I breeze over the hard parts. Tzedakah – I have always been a generous person and an enjoy being a support of the arts in both my home NYC, and my current city, Philadelphia. Prayer. Prayer hasn’t been high on my list in a long time. It used to be. But it went away. Until I moved to Philadelphia. Ever since I got my apartment here, I lit candles on the Sabbath, said the prayer(s) over them, blessed the bread, blessed the wine … having kabbalat shabbat at home.

This is not an equation for getting closer to G-d or getting G-d to anul his decrees against you. But I’m finding that as I face the biggest life-threatening challenge of my life, I started to address one of the bigger spiritual ones. I know there’s a nugget of something in there, but it’s so ill-formed.

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3 Responses

  1. Seth – hope you had a reasonable night’s sleep.

    I also thought that the purpose of tefilah was to invite spirituality – G-d if you like – into our lives, open ourselves to it. I never understood the “severity of the decree” bit except to be reminded that we are going into a new, unwritten year that will surely hold both good and bad. But it always makes me feel a little helpless, since I know that everyone in the massive congregation that hears this will get their share of severity and ease out of measure of their virtue or lack thereof.

    What always does touch me, though, is the prayer just before Kol Nidrei, where the beit din declares: “In the courts above, and the courts on earth, we decree that it is permissible to pray with sinners.” This, to me, gives meaning to tefilah – that even though we are flawed in each our way, we still get to take part in atonement. We’re allowed a certain measure of chutzpah. Maybe even a lot.

  2. Maybe a lot more than we thought … or appreciated.

  3. My dear Seth,

    You, thank goodness, have chutzpah galore! I know that this along with your other assets of intelligence, creativity, talent, warmth, generosity, perseverance and faith are exactly what is needed to conquer this enormous challenge!

    You also have us…. your many, many friends, colleagues and family who are rooting for you, holding you close and praying for you to come through.

    We are powerful force and you, Seth, have the strength and will to triumph!

    We are with you! All my love, Marylyn

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