Tell me

Well, friends, I have written 433 blog posts and now I think it’s time for you to do some work. I have an important question to ask and I would like people to answer it.

It all started yesterday. I was talking with the very famous Sima, the person who keeps my fingernails from falling off (yes, falling off… not exactly like leprosy, but just as ugly and painful) and she was telling me about someone she met who was a truly kind person. She talked about how this person was caring and giving and completely unselfish and told me that she has to be a very rare person. Well, I thought, she does sound very kind and caring, but I don’t know if she is very rare. In my experience, most of the people I meet and most of the people I know could be thought of in the very same way. Every day I see people being kind to others. I see people going out of their way for others. I think that the unkind person is the exception.

Granted, out on the road, especially in Israel, people can act most uncharitably. Some people seem to get a kick out of keeping others from changing lanes, from driving at the speed limit, from stopping for pedestrians– but get those same people in situation where help is needed, and I’m guessing they would be running over each other to be of help- even to a complete stranger.

So there’s the question. What’s your experience? Are people basically good and kind and giving or are they mean and selfish?

Missing in action?

I really have not been missing in action. Only the “action” part is correct. My days have been busy. Last week was my grandson’s surgery and the three days he spent in the hospital were not easy days for anyone. On Monday we took him back for a follow-up appointment and he seems to be healing well. We have to go back next week for another follow-up.

Since his condition is fairly rare, and since PHPV manifests itself differently in different people, the treatment options are not clear. We have gotten an enormous amount of support from people through the internet yahoo group. We identified the foremost expert on retinas in small children in the US and were told that he would be willing to evaluate Ephraim’s tests and reports. When we saw his doctor here in Israel (Israel’s expert on PHPV) I mentioned that we had located a doctor in the US. He actually said, without a second’s hesitation, the name of the doctor we had found. The Israeli doctor said that he is very doubtful that the US doctor has anything to offer that is not available here. But now we wait and see what his condition is following the surgery.

Our apartments are almost finished (HOORAY!!!). The one we live in is almost back to normal, but much improved. We still have to figure out what pictures we want to hang and where. Right now, the walls look pretty good without pictures…

We are putting the finishing touches on the short-term rental apartment and it really looks nice. We went out today and bought bedding, wastebaskets, knives… we need to clean the apartment of dust, wash the floors, and soon we will be ready for guests!

So now, there is no excuse not to visit us. We figure that between the two apartments, we can sleep 18 people (not including us!) with no one sleeping on a sofa (except the foldout one). So y’all just hurry on over, ya’ hear?

After the surgery

It is Thursday. Surgery was Tuesday and rather than summarizing the medical aspects, I will refer you to my daughter’s web site http://trilcat.blogspot.com/

I have a few observations:
1. My daughter is an amazing person. She provided a safe, loving environment for her little guy throughout this ordeal. She dealt with the entire process with equanimity. May no one I love ever be tested like this, but she passed with flying colors.
2. The doctor was enormously professional and inspired confidence. His manner was calm and he was clear and honest when he told us how the surgery had gone. I appreciate that.
3. The eye hospital at Tel Hashomer treated my daughter and grandson with caring and kindness. My daughter had a bed to sleep in each night.
4. Despite the fact that we have socialized medicine, we had very few hassles associated with the hospitalization. We walked out of the hospital without having to pay a sheqel.

Most important, Ephraim Yehoshua continues to be a blessing. He is a healthy, sweet, precious baby with a beautiful face and we couldn’t possibly love him more.

Hard days

Today was a hard day. I took my younger daughter and her 6 week old baby to the hospital. Her son was born with PHPV, a condition that results from a problem with the growth of a baby’s eyes as he is developing in the womb. Ephraim Joshua has this on only one eye and without surgery, he would have no chance for sight in that eye. The surgery must be done before 11 weeks of age for it to enable him to have a good chance of seeing, but early surgery is not a guarantee. The doctor will be removing a cataract from the eye, draining some of his vitreous, and examining the eye to see what the structure looks like. Depending on what he finds, he will give us his assessment of the potential for sight in that eye. If all goes well, it’s a long road between where we are and where we want to be. He will most likely have to wear a contact lens on the affected eye and most likely will have to wear a patch over his good eye for significant parts of the day. This could go on for 10 years.

We are fortunate in a number of ways. We were able to find the Yahoo support group and through their database, we were able to find another family in Israel, not very far from us whose child has PHPV. They have been wonderful- warm and supportive and open and helpful. They, along with Rabbi Fierer’s organization, Ezra LaMarpeh, helped us find the best medical care for Ephraim. The doctor has been wonderful and we feel that Ephraim is in the best hands.

The surgery is tomorrow. We ask for your prayers for אפרים יהושע בן לאה גבריאלה (Ephraim Yehoshua ben Leah Gavriella).

Predictability

It’s interesting what we humans do. We are born into a world that has some degree of predictability– the sun will rise in the morning and set at night, but a very large degree of randomness. If we look at our lives, we realize that very little is in our control. We cannot control the other driver- who may be talking on his cell phone or just not paying attention. We cannot control the illnesses that we are subject to. Oh yes, researchers work on treatments and cures, but aside from taking precautions not to do things that are dangerous to our health (smoking, excessive use of alcohol, tanning, eating large quantities of artery-clogging foods), we have very little control.

But we long for control. We long for predictability. We try to find reasons why others have hardships and heartaches and disabilities in order to protect ourselves from the realization that all of us are vulnerable. But when we are being rational, we know that the terror victim happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We understand that cancer began to grow in someone as a random occurrence. We comprehend that we are vulnerable.

We teach our children that this is an ordered universe- that if they behave nicely, good things will happen to them. And, we hope, we pray, this is true. We want so much to create for them a world without pain. And then the randomness of the universe once again shows itself.

Where is G-d in all of this? I wish I had an answer. I know that I cannot understand. I am not sure that humans are meant to understand. I have read more than once of life on earth as a tapestry. Just as a magnificent tapestry may have areas that are dark or bent or frayed, but when seen in the full context, they only add to the beauty, so we may see our lives. It’s a beautiful metaphor, but it doesn’t answer the question. Why can’t all of the people I love be part of the bright and beautiful part of the tapestry?

I think the answer to the lack of control is to take control of the part that we can. We CAN be kind to each other. We CAN help each other. We CAN value each other. We CAN provide the listening ear, the gentle touch, the warm embrace. We may not be able to control the world, but we can control how we act in it. And we have the ability to make it a better place.

Evolution

As a therapist I have been heard more than once saying that our thoughts and actions affect our feelings and that by changing thought patterns and actions, we can change the way we feel. Usually, one of the ways I talk about changing thought patterns is by changing our self-talk. That’s the internal narrative we carry on. So, for example, if we misstep we can say internally “oops” or we can say internally “I am such a mess” or “I can’t do anything right.” The words we tell ourselves program our feelings. We can in a situation like this either feel like it was a misstep or we can feel as if it was further proof of our inadequacy or of how much the universe has it in for us etc.

Well, I was raised by a mother who loved things and loved perfection. More than once, family members and I referred to my parents’ living room as “the museum of expensive furniture.” There wasn’t a ribbon or chain separating it from the foyer entrance, one step up, but no one, but no one trod on that perfect lavender carpet without permission. My father used to have the privilege of walking into the living room on Tuesday nights to wind the beautiful French clock on the wall because first thing Wednesday morning, the cleaning lady would vacuum the rug, ridding it of the telltale footprints. In all the years I lived in that house, I think I sat on the white cut-velvet sofa once. It was the day my in-laws came to visit for the first time.

Similarly, things were not to be moved from their proper places. Nothing was to be broken. Nothing could be disturbed. I was not allowed to cook because I might “ruin” one of the pots or break the blender or who knows what other ghastly sin I might commit. Things, particularly beautiful, expensive, perfect things, were important.

I tried to raise my children in a different way. I must admit, though, that every time we moved and furniture was scratched or torn or soiled, it bothered me. A lot.

As the years went by, I began to really think about the fact that things were only things. Even things that had great sentiment (such as the challah cover I embroidered while pregnant with my first son, during the Six-Day War that was missing for a couple of weeks) are only things. And things can be replaced. Things can be given away, sold, thrown away. They are not important. I have known that for years. I have said that for years. I use my fine china. If it breaks, it breaks. If I never use it, what’s the sense of having it? When the crystal glasses began to break, I threw them away. It was OK.

But today I realized that I really have evolved. As the stair rail men were removing the glass they had miscut, they scratched one of our brand new wooden steps. I said, “Look, there’s a scratch there” in a quiet, calm voice. I didn’t stay to see if they reacted. I went back into my office and continued to work. After a while, I thought, “Why am I not upset?” and the truth is, I am not. At all. I’ll try to touch it up with furniture polish, but it’s a thing.

Today, I will spend time with what’s important… some of my family members are getting together for a barbeque since Election Day is a vacation day. Now THEY are important!

The last week of renovations???

This was to be the last week. A couple of weeks ago they came and took measurements for the glass panels that will be our stair rail. Last week the stair people took out two defective steps. Yesterday everything was supposed to come together. Except no one showed up. Today the glass people called. The arrived shortly thereafter. They have the glass pieces. Unfortunately, they are not cut properly and instead of rectangle for the hallway rail, we have trapezoids. Instead of parallelograms on the panels going down the stairs, we have.. there was a reason that geometry wasn’t my favorite subject. And despite the fact that these guys were supposed to do a good job and that we are paying them for a good job, I feel terrible for them that we are going to insist they do it right. Otherwise we will be looking at our panels and seeing them crooked for as long as we can see.

So this is not going to be the last week. There will never be a last week. It will just go on and on and on.

So now I have a new form of wishing someone well. Instead of saying “As meah v’esrim” (may you live ’til 120), I will be saying “ad sof haShiputzim” (May you live until the end of renovations…. -at least-)

Sunny days and Fridays

The renovations continue. Just when I was thinking there is almost nothing left to do, I realized that there’s at least another week left…

Today is a bright sunny day and I went out early to do the grocery shopping. I used to hate grocery shopping in the US, but here, I love it. I never get over how beautiful the fruits and produce are and how relatively inexpensive they are here. I love that I don’t have to worry if the food I am buying is kosher. I check for fat content, for sugar content, but I don’t have to worry about the kashrut. How nice! I love running into people I know at the supermarket, especially on Friday mornings, knowing they are all getting ready for shabbat.

I came home and suddenly was overcome with a desire to clean. Yes, hard to believe of me, but suddenly I wanted to make everything spotless. It’s been about 4 hours now and I am taking a rest, but I am still on the cleaning kick… and no, Dr Savta is not available for hire, even by my children.

Have a wonderful shabbat!

What I did this weekend

The last few weeks have been very busy and somewhat disorienting and we’re not done yet. The back rooms upstairs are still in disarray and I am waiting for the day when I get up and tell myself that I am ready to start working on them. Today’s not it.

But this past shabbat, we took a real break. One of the big advantages of living in Israel is that you can get into your car and drive two or three hours and be in an entirely different world! On Friday morning, we drove two hours and were in the wilderness of Judea, along the Dead Sea, turning into the parking lot at Masada.

I had been to Masada at least four times before, but this was the first time that I ascended on the snake path. We were with a group of people all of whom were climbing. It was a warm, very windy , very sunny day. The path was long and winding (hence the name “snake path”). Much of the path has been widened and improved to accommodate tourists with steep inclines having been replaced by very steep steps. I am not certain that that constituted an improvement, because from the sound of my breathing, it seemed much harder to climb the steps than to climb the inclines. The walking itself wasn’t difficult– it was the breathing part- which I consider essential for continued good health (stop breathing and you are pretty much out of the game). Several times I stopped and rested and checked my pulse (the pulse was doing fine- registering aerobic activity, but not startling numbers) and drank some water. I had been fairly self-conscious about my heavy breathing (had I brought along a recording device, I am almost certain I could have sold the sound track for use in a stag film), but as I rested, I could hear the approach of people much younger than I as they panted their way up the mountain.

At a certain point, probably less than halfway up, I thought, “the is probably the last time I will be able to do this.” That thought was followed by a second, “I never want to do this again,” which in turn was followed by the pervading feeling “what am I doing here in the first place!”

I tried to tell myself that the view was gorgeous (it was.) I am awed by the desert and by the Dead Sea in the distance. But the truth is, that from the top, easily reached by cable car, one can see the same view without the huffing and puffing sounds.

But the bottom line is that I did it, and in a very short time, I was feeling fine.

The improvements made to the site are stunning! Many of the buildings have been restored, all the time preserving the original areas of the construction and having them marked as such. The explanatory signs in Hebrew and English and sketches of the buildings as they looked originally were very helpful in making this visit unique and memorable.

We returned from our visit to Masada and for shabbat, we stayed at a youth hostel just at the foot of Masada with a group of friends. It was lovely. The building was fairly new and the architecture and planning of the space was beautiful. There was a peace and serenity that was exactly what we needed. It was the most pleasant, relaxing shabbat we’ve had in a very long time.

And just as we approached home, we were blessed with a long awaited rain!