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AFTER THE FLAMES, on (not) PLAYING THE BLAME GAME

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This past week, a house in Brooklyn, due to a malfunction of a hot-plate,  became shockingly engulfed in flames on Friday night and seven children tragically perished. According to the fire department, this was the most devastating fire in NYC in the past seven years. I live in California, and even from far away, looking at the images, knowing that neighborhood, I can’t stop thinking of the sadness and trauma that the family will go through.

Apparently, the hot plate that malfunctioned, was used weekly by this (and other families) on the Sabbath to keep food warm, since Orthodox Jews don’t turn ovens or stoves on throughout Shabbat. Various methods of keeping food warm on the Sabbath are used. Some use warmers, others use a crockpot and/or put their food atop  a “blech” which is a metal covering over the range which has a flame underneath.

But somehow, people who read the news about this horrible fire, in which lives were lost, others were injured and badly burned and families are left bereft and traumatized, seem to overlook the word “malfunctioning” and focus on the  hotplate that was used. I read several articles about the event and happened to spot a few comments by random people. All of these people wrote comments to the tune of:

“If this is what being Orthodox is, then why bother?”

It becomes all about the hotplate. People, perhaps the hotplate was broken?  Perhaps the wire may have been frayed? It’s not the hotplate per se. It’s how it was used!

And then the fact that the family’s home did not have any smoke detectors on the main floors, was also another point of contention.

“How irresponsible! No smoke detectors? How utterly awful! How could anyone with all those children in a home be so careless?”

I understand the importance of learning from tragic situations. No one wants to make the same mistake as another person. I even get the value of discussing the “takeaway” from such an awful occurrence. I am aware that the fire department sat at tables stationed around the city and handed out free smoke detectors for anyone who came by.

It says in Ethics of our Fathers, “He who is wise, who learns from everyone.” We learn from others’ mistakes. Very wise.

But do we rub it in their faces? Do we plaster our thoughts of superiority all over the internet? Do we attribute the fact that there was a fire to religion only? Do we criticize the family – who not only can’t defend themselves or explain what actually went wrong, but is dealing with such immense pain and suffering?

Do we insinuate that we NEVER make any mistakes? Not small ones, and not even tragic ones? Never? Ever?

I know that I’ve used a hotplate many times to heat up food, or when our oven wasn’t working.  I also know that sometimes things don’t work correctly. In my case, thank G-d, the hotplate has worked well for me. I intend to be extra careful in the future, even surpassing my previous care that I took. I will check that the hotplate is made by a reputable company, and so forth.

True, the hotplate caused the fire in this case. So learn from it. Be careful with future use of any electrical item. Read directions. If you are already 100% careful with these types of things, then great. Keep doing it.

And regarding the fire detectors, yes, go out and purchase new ones of the ones you have are older than 10 years old (as mine are. We went to Home Depot yesterday and got new ones). Make sure they are in all bedrooms and hallways, and check that the batteries are fresh. Test out the smoke detectors.

But don’t blame and criticize the family for their tragic mistake in using the hotplate that just happened to malfunction this one time. Don’t blame the Shabbat, or laws of Judaism.

Don’t miss the point.

Don’t assault them for neglecting to put smoke detectors. The poor family can’t defend themselves, and the “know-it-all” comments only deepen the pain that the survivors must already be feeling.

Yes, the lack of smoke detectors was what may have prevented the family from getting out sooner. It could be that had they had smoke detectors that worked, the family would have survived. And certainly one must learn from that mistake.

But the attitude of “enflamed blame” doesn’t bring back the children.

And the attitude of “enflamed blame” doesn’t prevent the tragedy from happening to you – or me, or us.

When I was in fifth grade, my classmate died in a fire. In the middle of the night, the entire 3-story solid home a few blocks from our house in Brooklyn, blew up in smoke and flames. Everyone got out, and then tragically, my classmate went back inside to get someone she thought was still in there. She didn’t survive. It was one of the most tragic events I recall from my childhood.

The community was devastated. I recall being so upset for my friend, her family and everyone involved. I was frightened that the same thing might happen to our house.

The school brought in psychologists, and our parents spoke to us about the importance in case of fire of gathering in a special place in the front of the house. I don’t recall what caused the fire; it could be it was an electrical failure. Could be it was the Shabbat candles, or the Chanukah candles. Or maybe someone was smoking or a child found a match and played with the fire.

But I was afraid, terrified that the same thing would happen to our house, G-d forbid. And so, for a few weeks, every night I got up in the middle of the night and smelled smoke. I walked around the house checking for fire, checking for any visible signs of smoke.

And then when I didn’t find any,  after walking through the bedroom floor, the main floor and the basement, I climbed back upstairs to my bedroom on the top floor and went back to sleep. This carried on for a few days or more. My parents knew that I was doing this. My mother spoke to professionals about it and tried to reassure me. But her assurances that we have a fire alarm, smoke detectors and a house with strong walls made of sheet-rock that burns slowly…  didn’t allay my anxiety. I continued to wake up, “smell” smoke (could be the neighbor’s incinerator in the big apartment building?) and walk around to check.

One day my mother finally sat me down and said to me something that reached my heart and soul and calmed me down.

“You know, we have to put our faith in G-d. G-d protects us.”

Somehow, my mother’s reassuring voice, her wise words and her truth struck a chord with me. That was it. I never once smelled smoke after that.  I stopped my checking-the-house behaviors. And I completely stopped my anxiety.

I stopped my “enflamed blame” that was going on inside me that somehow I could prevent such a problem.

In Judaism, there is a phrase that one says when hearing about a person who has passed away. “Baruch Dayan HaEmes.” This translates as “Blessed is the One Who Judges the Truth.” We believe that G-d chooses who lives and who dies.  It behooves us to trust that. Whether or not one believes in a G-d or a Higher Power, one has to trust that everything is not in our hands.

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We go through the motions, follow safety rules of the experts such as the fire department, we teach these messages to our children, and then we lay our worries to rest (or we try to!).

We can run fire drills,  install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide sensors, and maintain fire alarms. We seek counsel from the experts and instruct ourselves and our children on fire safety. We can keep matches out of reach and turn pot handles towards the back of the stove. We can instruct our children what to do – and what not to do – in case of a fire.

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At the end of the day, we realize that the ultimate decision is in G-d’s Hands and accidents happen.

Better to move forward and take care of business.  Lose the superiority. Arrogance doesn’t save lives. Action and change do.

(CREDIT FOR FINAL QUOTE BY PAUL BRANDT’S LYRICS: VIRTUAL LIFE)


Eight Personal Miracles of 2014

I’ve been invited by the very creative writer Renee Schuls-Jacobson to post today, on the 2nd day/3rd candle of Hanukkah. Renee was given my name by Rivki Silver, another amazing blogger.  (Thanks, Rivki!) Anyway, this special activity where a bunch of bloggers (eight to be exact!) are each posting on a different day is called Hanukkah Hooplah!

And…in honor of Hanukkah Hooplah, I have a really important announcement to make:

I, Miriam, mother/grandmother/MIL blogger, am  taking  a BREAK  from blogging about my BREAK.  You know? My ankle break? Yeah. That one.

So? What does non-blogging about something have to do with Chanukah?

Bear with me as I explain:  Chanukah  commemorates miracles that happened to the Jewish people. Right? And  my ankle healing story (which began back in February)  would have been a really cool miracle for me to write about here. Kind of like my own personal miracle, right?

Good things a-coming

A BREAK FROM MY BREAK!

The problem is that I’ve  blogged  enough about the break of my ankle and  its ramifications. I’ve written about my convalescence and recovery here; my seeing the bright side  here and my gratitude for kindness and G-d’s miracles here.

I’ve written stuff here. And here. As they say in Hebrew: Maspik. Enough. Finished.

Not that anyone’s complained about my constant talking and writing and blogging about my ankle. No. People are very nice  and they listen to me. Still, Chanukah is my time to realize  that it’s not all about me about my  foot.  That miracles are really all around us at all times. And we don’t only have to break a leg – and then get better – to see them.

Just because my broken foot, in all its glory of swelling and redness and painfulness led me to see the light in a dark situation,  doesn’t mean I have to blag (that’s blab and blog) about my foot all the time.

Just because   as a result my foot healing,  I am a more grateful woman and just because I’m now  thrilled with little things like for example, uh…walking with two feet, and having almost no pain or stiffness anymore in my ankle, doesn’t mean I have to blag on and on about said foot and its healing.

So just to reiterate:  I’m NOT talking about my foot anymore. Got that? Good.

exclamation-mark-white-13658752462hm1NOT talking about foot!!

Okay! So, today, in this post I’m talking only about 8 other miracles of going from dark times to light times  in my life.

Because Chanukah is celebrating the light in the dark. The one small bit of oil that miraculously lasted for 8 days, and created so much light.

My miracles were the kind  that while they were  going on, I didn’t realize anything significant was happening. But  when I looked back weeks or months later, I thought “hey, I can’t believe the good that came out of that event  – what a miracle.”  I bet some of you can relate.  Over time, things have evolved in your life that represent a  remarkable change from dark to light.

Gradually evolved good stuff that makes us all happy and surprised  at one time.

slide-3Happy and Surprised!

Many of the Eight miracles below have occurred gradually. Knowing they have happened helps me see the light in the darkness with newer challenges that come my way.

Here they are (not in any particular order.)

Good-bye to my annoying mother-in-law behaviors. Some time after I broke my ankle was injured last February, which happened to be around the time that one of our sons got married, someone asked me about my new daughter-in-law. My response was “What? Who?” I seriously forgot that my son had gotten married. I was so absorbed in my pain and frustration of the broken ankle situation, that I forgot to be a mother-in-law! To me, this was a huge miracle that evolved over time. Hello! Who FORGETS to be a nagging mother-in-law? And my darling son and DIL (all three of them) got benefits  from my injury in that I left them alone for all those months. How cool (for those newlyweds)  is that?

milhoodladies2Boy, she looks like a mean mother-in-law, doesn’t she?

I got to keep my job.  When I did not work (because of my injury, I mean situation) at the hospice agency where I’d provided music therapy for clients for the past 7 years,  I worried I would not be able to work anymore. Thankfully, I returned to work, and the position was still available after so many months.

Son cured from  illness.  One of our married sons had headaches (which actually began last Chanukah 2013).  When they  didn’t subside, he went to the doctor for CT scans, which were negative. Then one day, he felt other strange symptoms. He checked into the hospital where they took more tests and after several brain scans and spinal MRI’s, he was diagnosed with an auto-immune illness (the antibodies created to kill the headache virus, attacked his spine), affecting certain functions.  But now after many months he is miraculously out of the woods, and has very slowly swung back to his regular self,  to the joy of his wife and children, and all of us. Thank G-d!

Layoff had happy ending. Early this year,  my husband’s software company laid off all employees. While this was a big shock, it turned out to be for the better, because after almost 2 months of looking for a job, my husband got a better job with better conditions. Looking back, we realize now that  his losing the first job led to a miracle of a much better job. (And…as an added benefit while I was in bed because of The Miracle that Shall Not Be Named, he was around to help me while he was temporarily laid off!)

Attended my father’s funeral (yes, that attendance was a miracle..read on).  My father recently passed away at the age of  88.  Sadly, I was not able to visit him during the final 9 months of his illness because I was not allowed to fly (from California where I live, to New York)- due to my situation. But,  when we got the call after the Shabbos that followed Rosh Hashanah this year that my dear father had passed away , I was already weight-bearing (medicalese for standing and moving on my feet). And so, I was able to attend my father’s funeral the next day in NY. A pure miracle, considering the fact that I had been immobile my situation.

No more sweating the small stuff.   I find that I don’t sweat the small stuff as much as I used to. Unfortunately, it took having several serious hardships  for me to get my priorities straight.

Grandma and kids on wheels

Medical scare with happy ending thank G-d – I found a lump about a year ago and to say I was terrified would be an understatement. It was over a Holiday weekend and I couldn’t reach my gynecologist. By the time I went to his office on the Monday, I was in tears. Hysterical. Thinking the worst. My doctor (who knows me for many years, having delivered almost all of my children), calmed me down, sent me for a biopsy. Diagnosis: Infection. Miracle of miracles. Antibiotics for 5 days and I was good as new.

New baby grandson.  Several weeks ago, our son  and daughter-in-law had a new baby.  Mazel Tov. Thank G-d.

Gentle now...k?

So there you have it: The 8 personal miracles that my family and I have  experienced as gifts from G-d. Sometimes it takes having all kinds of tzoros for us to really appreciate stuff.

And to think that I wrote this entire post without  mentioning my broken ankle even one time! Wow.  What a miracle.

Ummm.  Almost. Sort of…

 My question to you: What ONE miracle of a really dark situation that turned to light has occurred to you this past year?  Write a comment below describing a DARK to LIGHT situation in your life. The winner will receive a GIVEAWAY of my book mailed to them. All residents of the U.S. are eligible.

To win a copy of my book  please leave an AWESOME comment below sharing a  miracle  that you experienced  in the past year.

Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby! The Joys and Oys of Being a Mother, Mother-in-law, and Grandmother   makes a great Hanukkah gift!

HAPPY CHANUKAH  TO ALL and may all your challenges be miraculously overcome! Leave a comment below, telling about one of them!

And oh! Click on this  Hanukkah Hooplah menorah right here– go ahead. Click on it to  get to the other 7 blogger gals’ posts about Chanukah too.

I’m participating in a #HanukkahHoopla with 7 other Jewish bloggers. In the spirit of the season, we’re giving 8 gifts to 8 fabulous commenters. Click on  Hanukkah Hoopla menorah above to be magically transported to the schedule where you’ll find links to visit other fabulous writers and increase your chances of winning holiday cyber-swag!

 Photo Credits: Exclamation point graphic- publicdomainpics.net.  #Hanukkahhoopla Graphic: Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson.  All other photos property of Miriam Hendeles.


On Illness, Recovery and Birth

It’s been a difficult year for our family.  Lots has happened since late December of 2013 and early January. And here we are in November 2014, and we are celebrating the birth of our 5th grandson, thank G-d. Yes, our second son and his wife  had their third son this past Wednesday.

 

After illness comes recovery for some, whether it’s a complete or partial recovery. But throughout that process, I have experienced various emotions, from sadness, frustration and mourning  all the way to happiness and fulfillment.

It’s as if the challenging times gave birth to happy times.

By talking about my past year, I don’t want to minimize what others go through. Nor do I want to over-dramatize what my family and I experienced. Everyone has rough times. No one is free from challenges in this life, whether physical, emotional or both. I continue to pray for all my friends and relatives who are suffering daily with various issues.  When my children were growing up, things were chaotic, crazy and difficult…and fun. And I came out on the others side stronger (I think!).

But this year for some reason was more intense, concentrated into one year.

And this week, after all that, we have a new grandson. That alone gives me the strength to know that bad times are often followed by good times..and so life goes. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Year in Review:

Last January, one of our sons was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease, called transverse myelitis. He was in the hospital for a few weeks and until the diagnosis was clear, we were quite afraid of what he actually had. Thank G-d, he has recovered almost completely from the illness and is now free of most of his symptoms, but it was scary.

I now appreciate, as does our son and his wife, every bodily function from breathing, walking to using the bathroom. When we realize what can go wrong, and actually have those things go wrong, we are all the more relieved and appreciative when those abilities come back. Our son still has intermittent headaches which is a symptom of the original problem but the neurologists all say that that is part of the process. It can take up to a year or more for total healing to happen.

A few months later, in February, our third son got married – which was a wonderful and exciting event.  The day before that, I broke my ankle. You can read all about how I coped with that, as well as lessons that I learned in the process. And now, after three surgeries, a serious bone infection of osteo-myelitis  and lots of physical therapy, not to mention 6 months being laid up in bed, I am so deeply appreciative of every step I can take. Limping. Waddling somewhat…but who cares? I’m walking. Little by little and step by step, I’m regaining my strength. I also am appreciative of all the help I got from friends, relatives and acquaintances.

And then throughout my period of being with my casts, splints and not being allowed to weight bear (i.e. “stand on my feet!”), my father was sick with end-stage Parkinson’s Disease, which he had had for 14 years, and suffered most debility the last year. I could not visit my father who lived in NY, because I was not allowed to travel. I could barely speak on the phone with him, because his voice was very weak.

And as many of you know, my dear father passed away at his home at the end of September. Fortunately, I was already able to walk when my father passed, (with crutches and a walker), and so I “hopped” on a plane together with my dear husband as soon as we got the call, and flew to New York from Los Angeles where we live to be at the funeral the following day. Then, I sat shiva with my mom, aunt and siblings and flew back to LA after that.

One month later, I flew back to New York for the Shloshim  event, which is the memorial our family organized for the 30th day after my father’s death.

It’s been a whirlwind.

But here we are, celebrating little Baby Hendeles’s birth….

Good times a-coming. Which reminds me: I better get to cooking for Shabbat. Everyone is coming for dinner tonight!


Good-bye and Good Riddance: 10 Things!

Let’s be perfectly frank here. I’m getting a little tired of my broken ankle. It’s been almost 7 months that I’ve had this thing in my life, and I’m ready to say good-bye to my life of being “with-cast.”

That will be in a few weeks, but I’m all ready. I’m pumped. I’m preparing for the good-bye, and getting really into it.

This time of year, many of us are getting ready for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of the ways we do that is by counting our blessings, appreciating the good in our lives, and refraining from complaining.

Great goals to have. So at this time, my way of NOT complaining is to express how HAPPY I am to have come this far…to experience soon the end of my foot journey.  I am very excited to bid good-bye  to the lifestyle I have led the past 6 or 7 months.

Here are the 10 things that I’m looking forward to saying good-bye to very soon. Good bye and good riddance!

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Go away. Don’t come back!

  1. Good-bye to awkward getting in and out of cars. I’ve used a scooter to get around and when someone drives me places, I have to edge the scooter close to the curb, then hoist half my body onto the seat of the car, while holding injured foot in mid-air. Then I move my injured foot with a plop onto the floor of the seat, while pulling the seat belt around me. Reverse for getting out of cars. Hello easy meneuvering!

  2. Good-bye to scooter. I will be able to put weight on and use both feet and legs. What a concept. Walking, driving, and getting around and putting weight on both feet – not just my good foot. Hello 2 feet!

  3. Good-bye to plaster cast. I will be able to see my leg in the flesh. I will no longer have the cumbersome, itchy, and stuffy cast hovering around my bones and holding my healing ankle stiffly in place.  As I will be transferring to a “walking air cast” – i.e. removeable cast in a few weeks, that will give me more freedom. Yay! Hello open air on leg!

  4. Good-bye to four walls and stale air of my home. Most of the days I stay at home. Soon I will get to go outside more often, because of my upcoming independence.  Hello fresh air!

  5. Good-bye to bad posture.  Today I was in an elevator in a doctor’s office building, and I noticed that I was standing hunched with my knee on my scooter. It’s an inevitable pose, given my state of being with-scooter, but it’s hardly good for posture. Hello straight back!

  6. Good-bye to Facebook 24/7. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But you know what I mean. When you have a life, you don’t need facebook all the time, or do you? Hello Life!

  7. Good-bye to denial about weight gain . Hey, it’s easy to deny weight gain when you can’t put foot down to weigh oneself on a scale for all these months. Not to mention a heavy cast that would distort the weight anyway. Hello facing the music!

  8. Good-bye to lack of structure in day. Yes, I’ve kept very busy the past half year with many hobbies and other pursuits. But my days were unstructured. I’m ready for a set schedule in my life. Hello real job!

  9. Good-bye to only elevators. Ever try going up a staircase with a scooter or crutches? It ain’t easy, and depending on the number of stairs, it is downright impossible. Hello stairs and escalators!

  10. Good-bye to pain killers. This is something I’ve said good-bye to a few weeks ago already, but I look forward to not having even a low level of pain. That may take some time, as I am going to have physical therapy which is likely to be painful at times. But still, I’m moving in the right direction of recovery and I’m looking forward. Hello to comfort!

What I will do with all these things remains to be decided. I don’t think I will be throwing out the above ten concrete or abstract things, but I will definitely be happy to say good-bye.

And on that note, I say good-bye to this post. Stay tuned to a future post where I thank all the wonderful folks who have helped me survive this journey.

What are you saying good-bye (and hello) to during this season of High Holidays?

Photo Credit: www.publicdomainpics.net


This Test is Too Hard!… Or is it?

Life is a Test

By Miriam Hendeles (lyrcis); Jana Stanfield (music); Vocals and recording Arthur Kaufman

Remember when we were in school as kids and a teacher gave a really challenging test? I’m thinking about a particular math teacher in high school who always created questions with a little bit of trickiness in them. You may have another teacher in mind.

But we all have memories of tough teachers, don’t we? How did we handle it?

Careful studying. Practicing. Understanding.

AND SINGING

Singing is Fun!

Singing is Fun!

Singing? Yup. I sang a lot of my material while studying. I created mnemonics to tricky problems and formulas and I would recite them in my mind and make up lyrics to familiar songs.

 

I believe other people do the same thing. I’m not unique in that way. Studies have shown how music can enhance memory.

Life is a lot like that. Sometimes things are easy and we coast along, figuring stuff out with our lovely children and spouses.

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Also  financial situations, relationships and so forth. Other times things get a  little bit tricky and we just want to scream out how unfair it all is.

IT’S NOT FAIR. THIS IS NOT THE COURSE I SIGNED UP FOR!

Singing is one way I have coped through the ups and downs of life.

I’ve been around the block a few times in my life, with stuff that I’ve gone through. Most of that I don’t write about in my blog, because I try to keep this blog upbeat and fun. Hey, it’s about the joys (and oys) of being a grandmother, and how challenging can that be?

mountainkids

Climbing mountains! That’s fun for us!

But, there have been tests over the years. Way before I became a mother-in-law, grandmother. I’m a middle aged person (sounds really old, but I don’t feel that way!), and  my husband and I have gone through raising a family of sons, marrying off three of them, thank G-d, and the various ups and downs of life.

Last year, our second son came down with a new (to us) virus, which affected his spinal chord and he was diagnosed with an illness called transverse myelitis. Needless to say, he, his lovely wife,  my husband and I and the rest of our family, went through a lot to be there for him. Thank G-d, 9 months later, he’s much better. But he’s not out of the woods yet. He still needs prayers, (Avraham ben Miriam is his Hebrew name for praying).

I broke my ankle almost 7 months ago, and I’m much better, thank G-d, but not out of the woods yet. Soon I will be.

Through all this, and other stuff, we thank G-d for our blessings, we enjoy our lives, and we continue to sing.

Sometimes the words and the structure of the song combined with the melody inspires us to focus on important concepts inherent in the lyrics. If the same words were spoken or heard, we may not get them. But by singing and playing them, we get the message stronger. The music accesses our heart as well as our mind.

Recently, I composed a song called “Life’s a Test” (play above in post) – (lyrics by yours truly) to address this theme of doing our best in life, studying as hard as we can, and trusting that G-d will do the rest.

So the next time, you have a difficult exam, whether it is a school – or life — challenge, try singing! It may be just what you need!

Check out the song above, “Life’s a Test” and let me know how it helps you!

For more information about music therapy, please visit the music therapy website,  http://www.musictherapy.org

  • Lyrics by Miriam Hendeles, MT-BC; Lyrics adapted for instructional and sharing (non-profit) purposes to Jana Stanfield‘s music –

“How Beautiful”  by Jana Stanfield and Jerry Krimbrough; (used with permission for instructional purposes only).

(http://www.janastanfield.com)

-Vocals and Recording by Arthur Kaufmann of Magic Key Productions – Cedar City, Utah (http://www.redrockrecords.com)

Non-photo images above: Credit http://www.publicdomainpics.net

“The reason my co-writers and I write these songs is so that people will hear them, use them, and enjoy them. There are very few radio stations out there that play this kind of music, so please be our DJ’s.” — Jana Stanfield (on her website, 2012).

 


Trying On Shoes

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The other day I gained a slight glimpse of what it feels like to be in  other people’s shoes. My husband and I attended several wedding this past week which was at times exhausting, given my not-so-distant (3 1/2 weeks ago!) surgery on my ankle.  But it definitely was exciting to get out and see people. The fresh air, the drive to the venues with the car windows wide open, the chats with old friends, the expanse of the hotels where I scooted around on my “knee rider,” and the sitting and dining with good friends at these events, were huge boosts to my mood. Hey, after being home almost 24/7 for so many months, I welcomed the change at these friends’ happy occasions.

At the first wedding, which was in a large Sheraton hotel, my husband and I glided (well I glided, he walked) through the lobby towards where the ballroom was. Oh. Steps.

No problem, I thought. Only 3 steps. I’ve done those before. It’s just a matter of angling my scooter and edging up one step at a time. As long as the steps are piled close together without too much thickness, (hey, ever thought someone could be analyzing the construction of steps?), I was fine.

But what we found on the other side of the steps, stumped me — and my husband.

Escalators. Nope. Those won’t work.

So we went around the back, found a ramp, and got back to where we started. After some asking around (should have done that to begin with!), we found the elevators which took us to the handicap accessible lobby, which took us by ramp to the ballroom.

Whew.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Bells went off in my head.

This is what people who have disabilities go through all the time. They can’t just go, climb and attend events. They have to plan out their entrance to wherever they are going. When the place is familiar, they already know what to expect, but when the place is new (as this hotel was for my husband and I), they need to seek out the handicap accessible ramps, elevators and other accommodations.

It ain’t easy.

My aha moments continued as I went to the next wedding, the following evening. This one was at a Hilton hotel that I’d been to in the past, so I knew that the parking structure’s elevator took us straight up to the ballroom area with the foyer and lobby outside the ballroom.

But then I remembered the restrooms. They were downstairs. I recalled using them at past weddings there, and going down the elegant winding staircase  in my high-heeled shoes toward the restrooms.

I decided then and there I was going to ask where the elevators to go down were. I looked around and saw that the elevators where we arrived had a button to go down and the only thing was that one had to then navigate around the bend back to the restrooms, once downstairs.

In the end,  I sat mostly in my seat at that wedding, and enjoyed the people at my table. Another realization. People with disabilities don’t get to move around freely as much, without depending on someone to push them around in a wheelchair, or bumping around in a scooter like I have.

The third wedding this week was when the aha moments of the past few nights were sealed in my mind forever.

My husband and I arrived at the synagogue where the wedding was to take place. This was a large, elegant building with towering staircases (see where this is going?) that were white, marble, and very beautiful structurally.

Beautiful, but impossible to navigate.

As we strolled (I scooted; my husband walked) down the street and arrived at the front of the building, we saw the 30 stairs looming large in front of me. We looked to both sides of the building to find a ramp.

No ramp on either side.

We asked the guard who was standing at the staircase and she frowned,

“Oh there’s a ramp over there,” she said, pointing to the area near the parking lot where we had left our car. “But that’s taken over by the catering truck. You can’t go there.”

Uh. Oh. Should we just go home? This doesn’t make sense.

My husband is not one to give up on these matters, and so he went to the caterer at the ramp and asked what to do.

“Well, it’s really dangerous to come through here,” he admitted. “Why don’t you try in the back entrance where the kids’ playground is? I think there’s a ramp to get in the backway.”

We thanked the guy, and went down the alleyway, through the parking lot, (I bumped; my husband walked) toward the playground area. We opened the gate (whew. It was opened), and there were 2 steps to go downward. No problem. My husband helped me edge downward with the scooter.

Then came a short pathway to go toward the door, and a 3-step staircase (Nope, not a ramp. Oh well..) to get into the ballroom.

Mission accomplished.

Seldom do we get to try on other people’s shoes and situations. We are fortunate to know and understand ourselves, what makes us tick, how to label our own feelings and deal with them. That’s a pretty big task if we want to be self-aware and conscious in our actions.

But other people? We can only know what they are feeling by listening to what they tell us, watching carefully and asking questions if we are unsure. Other than that, it is presumptuous to think we know what someone else is going through. It’s insensitive to think we know what others are thinking, because we don’t. It’s silly to think we can “understand” what others’ experiences are. We can’t really do that.

Our Jewish Sages teach us, “Don’t judge another until you are in his place,” because you just never know anything until you are exactly in their shoes. And let’s face it; even if you experience something similar to them, it will never be exactly the same.


Top 10 Tips for Visiting Sick People

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Visiting the sick is an art, not a science. In Hebrew, we call this act of performing any kindness to family of sick people– bikur cholim.  Recently, I have been laid up in bed for many months, due to a broken ankle, and I have been the recipient of this mitzvah (good deed) by so many people in our community. People have been generous beyond my wildest imagination. Although I performed bikur cholim before I broke my ankle, I don’t think I did so with such skill and grace as those who performed the mitzvah for me. And so, I’ve compiled a list of 10 “best practices” for mastering the art of bikur cholim based on my experiences as a recipient. Just as one must master certain skills in order to produce a true work of art, so too one must master certain practices in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim in its highest form.

In creating this Top Ten Tip List, I am speaking to myself as much as to the reader:

  1. Call, text or email the sick person before visiting to ask when is a good time to visit; it’s not a good idea to pop in without prior mention.

  2. When others are also present, refrain from side conversations without involving the person who is sick.

  3. Unless the sick person asks, do not talk about yourself or your own life; rather, talk about something you know is of interest to the sick person.

  4. Your presence is what is most valued by the sick person, even more than cards or flowers.

  5. Ask open ended questions (i.e., “How are you feeling today?”) to encourage the person to talk if they are in the mood; do not ask details about their illness.

  6. Speak using empathy and compassion; avoid speaking platitudes.

  7. If you are running errands such as going to the market, it’s nice to call and offer to pick up something; you can keep a running tab on how much you’ve spent so the patient can pay you back.

  8. Ask first before sending over food; coordination (regarding time and food sent) is important to not cause undue stress for the patient. If they tell you they are fine with whatever you send, then go with their wish.

  9. A brief friendly phone call is always appreciated; most important is to listen to what the person has to say and help the patient feel validated. You can offer to relieve a young mom of the kids for a few hours, by taking them to the park.

  10. If you say you will do something, follow through with it; if something comes up, let the person know because they are likely relying on you to fulfill your word.

After all is said and done, we strive to do our best when it comes to any mitzvah, especially visiting the sick. And if we aim to do bikur cholim artfully and purposefully, then G-d will help us achieve our goals. May all the sick and injured be cured by the ultimate Doctor, and may there be no more need for bikur cholim.

Photo credit: M. Hendeles


Going Out on a Limb and other Corny Cliches

When someone tells me that I’m really taking my broken foot situation in stride, I smile at the pun…and the compliment.  But when people are so bold as to go out on a limb in their writing, calling attention to  cliches by inserting quotation marks, I simply put my foot down.

leg-and-foot

Aaargh! Not another corny joke!

What bothers me about puns is the utter lack of originality. Someone coined a phrase for a common life phenomenon, and another person pulls that phrase out of their word bag, plugging it into his or her writing. Continue reading


8 Ways I Broke Into My Diet Program After Breaking My Ankle

I’ve struggled with weight, and  battled sticking to any sort of food program – in particular  a Weight Watchers program.  So when I broke my leg, I had a feeling that any pounds I’d lost over the past weeks through hard work, would be quickly gained back.

Broken Leg=couch potatoBroken Leg = Couch Potato?

I was forced to bring my active life to a standstill.  As per doctor’s orders, I’ve been home for long stretches of time in bed with my right foot elevated. I haven’t  walked in shoes, nor have I driven a car for several months. Continue reading


5 Unique Reasons I am Not Bored while Stuck at Home

It’s the first question everyone asks me, usually after I tell my story of how I broke my ankle. After I share that my doctor has forbidden me to get out of bed except to go to the restroom. How he has me lying with my foot elevated on several pillows to keep the swelling down. How I have not gone to work or stood on both feet, walked, or driven a car for six weeks.

It’s the one thing friends, relatives and acquaintances want to know.  And they ask with utmost sincerity,  a worried look on their face, and extreme sympathy in their voice. They mean well and think their question will bring me comfort and validation.

The question? Continue reading


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