My friend Michael had just come through a complicated operation, the kind of surgery where wisps of death swirl close and recovery has little to do with returning to normal and much to do with adjusting to the realities of an abbreviated colon. I brought a fuzzy blanket to the hospital for him even though it is the kind of thing I fully expected him to find ridiculous. Post-surgery Michael held the blanket up to his cheek and tried to say thank you, but instead he cried a little. I thought I should take the fuzzy blanket and tuck it in around him. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it.
Roxanne was already sitting in the armchair next to Michael’s bed when I arrived. Even though she was a doctor and was used to focusing on fixing people, Roxanne was never afraid to gaze directly at things that could not be remedied. She was the one who suggested I bring a gift for Michael that was soft and cozy and touchable. She was there as much for me as for Michael, even though she appreciated how seasoned I was at hospital visitation. continue reading
Your synagogue is packed. Parking spaces scarce. You’ve been careful to hold on to your ticket, which is required for entry. These are the days of awe. The time to contemplate the state of your mortality. In the sanctuary, a man blows a ram’s horn to signify the seep of the ancient into the present at a time when the congregation prays for the future. Please God. Inscribe me and my family into your Book of Life. As always, you ask for one more year. Around you, they recite the poem with the punch list of how one might perish. On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: Who shall live and who shall die. Who by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by hunger and who by thirst? Who by earthquake and who by drowning? Who by strangling and who by stoning?
But never mind about that. This is the time when you and all Jewish mothers everywhere prepare for the arrival of the family and attempt to make this holiday as authentic and real and Jewish as possible. Obviously, it’s about the meal. Nothing is more sacred than food. continue reading
When I arrived at law school in the autumn of 1979, I knew the course load would be daunting, the academics challenging, and that my fellow students were probably all a little smarter than me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the way the law school curriculum left no space for uncertainty, self-doubt and especially vulnerability. There were difficult questions from my professors and clever retorts from fellow students who all appeared to be a lot less intimidated than me. The idea, as I interpreted it, was to shatter any semblance of incertitude that might exist in me and if that was not possible, second best alternative was to scuttle any part of that kind of temperament into the deepest recesses of my psyche, so deep that neither my fellow students nor my professors would ever suspect I was only pretending to be secure and confident.
Had I been less tenacious, I would have quit. But I stayed, practicing my poker face in the mirror, never grasping what I lacked was an alternative to help me regain balance after facing adversity. continue to page 39