I was sitting on the floor of the family room teaching Mick a few yoga stretches. I felt normal. Feeling normal for me is like sighting a heron in my backyard in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mick’s clumsiness in trying to do the stretches made me laugh, something else that has been rare. Unfortunately, my normal range of emotions towards Mick have been more like grumpy, cranky and disapproving, sometimes for a reason and sometimes just because.
The phone rang. It was Miriam inviting us to come for a Friday night meal the Friday after the one coming up. “If you had called me a day earlier, the answer would have been ‘no’, but I think I can do it.”
Of course, the days ensuing gave me plenty of reason to examine my sanity. For two days in a row Mick and I had walked the Kenwood Mall after radiation and, with a minute’s rest at the beginning point, I was able to do two rounds which would be equivalent to walking from Miriam’s to home. On the other hand, for the past three months, the longest I have lasted at a Shabbat table was about 45 minutes. When my son and his family visited on Thanksgiving, after eating a little, I stretched out on the floor and my son, David, came and lay down beside me. We were soon joined by my grandchildren. All the other Friday nights, after being at the table for about 20 minutes, I would recline on the couch for 10-15 minutes, go back to the table for maybe another ten minutes, and then to bed.
Chemo kept me from sleeping. Since I have been taking radiology, I have noticed a change. I am sleeping at night and instead of walking around like a zombie during the day, I am sleepy still but not exhausted. In the evening, instead of going to bed at 4pm I am simply taking another rest and then up for a few hours in the evening.
After acupuncture, I am generally in deep pain and try to ease out of it by soaking in a hot bath, lying in bed, doing stretching exercises and asking G-d to make my pain pills effective. I was to have an acupuncture appointment that Friday. I changed it to Monday and pep talked myself throughout the coming days that I would make it to this Friday night dinner and have the strength to sit at the table for the required time.
My husband was fearful and kept telling me not to push myself. I felt badly for him spending Shabbat after Shabbat alone while I sank into the comfort of our bed and he bent over the Chumush with some back up books from the sages, as he tries to discern the mysteries of the week’s parsha, alone.
Our friends Jeff and Debbie were also guests at Miriam’s and I asked Debbie to pick me up. She showed up at 4pm and I was worried that I would be worn out before I reached the table. I coaxed her to stay and visit before we left the house. It was great to catch up with her and just schmooze.
At 4:30pm we went to Miriam’s and Mick went to shul. Debbie volunteered to pick up Miriam’s mother-in-law and married myself to the curves of the sofa.
When Barbara and her daughter Leora showed up, all attention was on the beautiful and animated Leora who was visiting from NYC. Poised to make an important decision about her teaching internship she went into great detail explaining all the pros and cons of making her decision which involved not only a lot of traveling but possibly precluding taking necessary Master’s courses. I was mostly quiet but loved the way the women were so involved and supportive of Leora’s decision making process.
Miriam’s mother-in-law, Esther, who is 86 years old and looks 20 years younger, always appears to be on the brink of receiving a pleasant surprise that will make her life even better. I silently wished that we all reach that age in that same good health, with that same wonderful disposition and that contentment mixed with excited anticipation.
The men came in from shul and we gathered at the table. And although I have been at this very same table before, and at many other similar tables, this table seemed special. I looked at the three other couples and recognized how devoted each husband is to their wife. Menchem walked the length from the head of the table twice to make sure that his wife had the first cup of wine from the Kiddush cup, and the first slice of challah, instead of passing it down the table. The conversation went from one subject to another but frequently it revolved about asking about someone’s progress or plan and how they were faring. You could feel that everyone cared about the answer to these questions. The men sang Shabbat songs and they sounded sweeter and stronger than usual. Miriam is a great cook and the food looked and tasted delicious and the dishes were abundant and varied from creamy, rich carrot soup to sweet squash kugel and bean dip to fresh salmon.
Rabbi Balk is graduating his chaplaincy class on Monday and beginning a new career, just as his youngest daughter is poised to begin hers. Jeff and Debbie, recent baal teshuva, are eager to lap up and treasure every new revelation of Torah, or customs and laws. I shared some business news, amazed that in my weakened state my life continues to be exciting and adventuresome.
Being out with others, all who live an observant Torah lifestyle, who care about their spouses, their friends, their community, felt like coming in from a storm after getting my feet drenched, and then sinking into a hot bath and a steaming room, enveloped in warmth.
I lasted until dessert and then announced I needed to go home. Barbara wrapped me in a warm, supportive, hug, as did Debbie and Miriam. Leora, with great sincerity, wished me well, and Menachem walked Mick and I out the back door to show us the short cut.
I had the right amount of energy to walk home and get into bed and I felt like this was a new beginning, a hopefully beginning, to leading the life I had before cancer. What a glorious Shabbat.