“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who shall live and who shall die, who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by Roman soldier and who by cancer…”
“No, that’s not how it goes,” I wearily chided myself from my hospital bed. I knew I was making up my own words. But alone in the wee hours of the morning, as the High Holidays approached, that was the best rendition of the Unetanah Tokef (the central prayer of the High Holiday service) that I could muster. And my brother Jeffrey later told me that spending the eve of Yom Kippur with me in the hospital was the most meaningful Yom Kippur of his life.
I had been acting strange for a few weeks. I am usually conscientious and punctual, but that month I had slept through work and two piano lessons. My friend Barbara grew concerned and called me, only to learn that I was sitting outside my doctor’s office on a Sunday, confused about why the building was locked. I thought it was Monday. I had been so tired that I had requested medical leave from work to get tested for mononucleosis. Mono was the only thing I could imagine that could account for such relentless fatigue. After Barbara whisked me to the ER for a brain scan, I learned that a brain tumor also has that power. My sister Ann, on learning that I was in the neuroscience ICU, drove down to Virginia from New York in the middle of the night to help.
And so I found myself, several days later, under the surgeon’s knife, just when I should have been getting ready to fly to Boston to attend High Holy Days services with one of my favorite rabbis, Jonathan Kraus, and my best friend, Sandi. Instead, Sandi flew to Baltimore to be with me in the hospital, leaving her family and community to be by my side. .
After surgery at Johns Hopkins, I moved to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore for rehabilitation before returning home. My sister Ann, who is Orthodox, was staying with our dear friends of over twenty years in a nearby Orthodox Jewish community.
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