Monday, November 29, 2010

Orthodox Jews in Space

By Susan Esther Barnes

For many years now I’ve been a reader of a magazine called, “Analog Science Fiction and Fact.” I’m not a hard science kind of gal, and I don’t always like all of the stories in the magazine, but I find most to be well written, plausible, and entertaining. I find it a welcome way to take a short break from the more serious reading I do about Judaism and related subjects.

Imagine my delight when I thought the two areas that take up most of my reading time would come together when Analog published a story titled “The First Day of Eternity” by Domingo Santos, as translated by Stanley Schmidt. On the third page of the story it says, “Project Diaspora was originally conceived, developed and financed by the great Jewish lobbies of Earth as a second Exodus from the incomprehension of gentile societies, to spread Judaism throughout the Universe. So the pilgrims chosen for the first Diasporas … were all strictly Orthodox.”

I thought, “Cool, Orthodox Jews in space. If everyone on the ship is a strict Orthodox Jew, then they’re going to, for the first time in a long time, experience what it’s like to be in their own community without any outside influences or temptations. I hope they don’t need to do any important ship maintenance – such as to life support systems - on Shabbat!”

I suppose I should have been tipped off to the author’s lack of knowledge about Judaism when he went on to say the ship’s inhabitants “venerated the menorah” and “celebrated” rather than “observed” Yom Kippur, but on the title page the story says it was translated, so I set those issues down to a probable poor translation.

Setting aside any qualms I might have about the reference to the “great Jewish lobbies,” I thought, “Well, the author must know that the poorest group of people in Israel is not, as certain activists might have us believe, the Muslim Arabs, but it is the ultra-Orthodox Jews, because the men in those families spend all day studying Torah rather than earning a living for their families. So it must not be the ultra-Orthodox who are on the ship. It must be the Modern Orthodox, since they would be more likely to be able to raise the funds.”

I suppose maybe the Modern Orthodox and other Jews might be willing to raise money to send the ultra-Orthodox off in these ships, but that starts to smack just a little bit of people raising money to ship the Jews off in cattle cars. Maybe this story takes place so far in the future that the Jews have become de-sensitized to the horrors of the Holocaust, but we Jews have long memories, particularly about our collective tragedies.

It also struck me as particularly odd that the Jews would flee from “the incomprehension of gentile societies.” Are these Orthodox Jews giving up on being a “light unto the nations?” Sure, they’re supposed to “spread Judaism throughout the Universe,” but since the ship’s mission is to discover and colonize a new, unpopulated planet, this clearly isn’t about proselytization. Still, maybe they yearn for a chance for their children to grow up without gentile influences. I suppose that’s plausible.

But wait a minute. On the first page of the story, one of the inhabitants of the ship says, “We should give thanks to the god of the stars for that,” and a short time later adds, “and to the god of the ship for bringing us this far.” So, this ship full of formerly Orthodox Jews is now a ship of pagans? How did that happen?

The author explains that the ship’s computer decided to make itself a god, and over time influenced the ship’s humans to change their religion. On page four the story says the computer made itself “their prophet, the Moses of the new Exodus,” and goes on to say, “It was the ship, and the ship was it. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the electronic mystery of the Holy Trinity.” Uh, I’m sorry. I do try to suspend my disbelief when I read science fiction, but, frankly, I don’t think the author has any idea what he’s talking about.

Judaism is the world’s oldest living monotheistic religion. Jews are very accepting of the presence of other monotheistic religions. But Judaism has survived as long as it has because Jews are very good at not taking on the beliefs of the religions around them. After being surrounded by pagans in its early years and Christians for two thousand years after that, and not bending from the belief that God is one, there is no way a bunch of Orthodox Jews in a space ship are going to change all that to suddenly believe in a Holy Trinity just because their computer says so. Rather, if the computer started spouting religious nonsense at them, they would quickly recognize a flaw in the computer and immediately set their programmers to the task of fixing it.

It strikes me that the author must know very little about Jews. Perhaps he is unaware that every day, when we lie down and when we rise up, we say the Sh’ma, confirming that God is one. Perhaps he doesn’t know that throughout the space ship, on nearly every doorway (save the ones leading to the lavatories), there would be a mezuzah, and in each mezuzah would be a scroll with the Sh’ma, confirming that God is one. Perhaps he does not know that the Sh’ma is called “the watchword of our faith.” The last thing an Orthodox Jew would ever abandon is the understanding that God is one. This understanding was our greatest gift to the world.

According to the story, this complete change in religion took only seven generations, and then “the brain that was the ship rested.” Really? So a religion that has lasted thousands of years, through pograms, the Crusades and the diaspora, surrounded by other religions and by enemies sworn to wipe it out, suddenly crumbles, in less than seven generations, in a completely closed environment where everyone except the computer starts out as a “strictly Orthodox” Jew? I don’t think so.

Which leaves me wondering, why did the author chose to say the ship was paid for and populated with Orthodox Jews? His tale of the ship creating a religion for the people would have been much more plausible if the original ship inhabitants had been secular scientists without any strong religious beliefs to hold onto. Or even a bunch of people from a host of different religions who would undermine each other’s beliefs.

Why pick a homogenous group of people with the longest running, most resilient, most time-tested belief system? It seems like an incredible blunder, one that renders his story completely unbelievable before it even gets past page four. This is not the kind of mistake I’m used to seeing in Analog. The only explanation I have is that the author and the editor know so little about Jews that they don’t even start to have a clue about us.

Which leads me to suggest to them the oldest rule in the book for authors: Please stick to writing about what you know. And if you have to write about something else, please at least do some basic research first. Otherwise, you blow your credibility out of the water, and it’s hard for those of us in the know to take your writing seriously, no matter how good the rest of the story might be.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Haveil Havalim #292

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack.

This is my first time hosting it. Since I've been reading it for several months and and have met a number of new blogging friends through it, I thought it was time to step up and host. Opinions expressed in the posts linked below are those of the respective bloggers and not necessarily endorsed by me.

Batya presents Jericho and Joshua, Why Did the Walls Come Tumbling Down?.

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver submitted a post I could have put under a heading of "Let's get metaphysical" but I suppose it's Torah in the broad sense of the word: The purpose of creation.

Joshua Waxman presents How Eliyahu Segal can learn a Yerushalmi better than Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

When to light the Chanukkah candles in relation to the prayers and other issues of halacha are discussed by Yechezkel at Ohver L'Asiyasan.

Converted and think nobody will know? Chavi suggests you be prepared to be "outed" in her humerous post titled Rule #1 of Conversions: You Can't Hide that You're a Convert.

Benji Lovitt wrote a thoughtful piece about a conversation he had at a US university with a pro-Palestinian college student at I Debated an Iranian Dude and All I Got Was This Crappy T-shirt.

Rabbi Ariel Burger shares what the placement of the Chanukiyah means to him at On the Threshhold -- What Chanukah Teaches Us About Inclusiveness.

Schvach presents Schvach - פני דל.

If you've never heard a Rebbe described as a bulldozer - in a positive way - here's your chance. Read Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver's post The Rebbeim paved the way.

Do you shake hands with, or hug, those of the opposite gender? Chavi tells us her answer to a "touchy" question at The Most-Thought Yet Least-Asked Question: Are You Shomer Negiah?.

A Simple Jew passes along a great idea for those of us who don't want to appear crazy in "One of the greatest inventions".

Cosmic X relates intermarriage with a lack of Jewish education at Intermarriage Statistics and Torah.

Rabbi Michael Lemming presents The Rabbi Lemming Show # 3- "Back From The Dead".

Daniel Ben Shmuel presents Rabbi Meir Kahane Remembered (audio).

Susan Barnes (that's me!) wrote about a new set of tefillin at The Trouble with Tefillin.

We're all invited! Jacob Richman is having a party. See the details at Invitation to my Virtual Chanukah Party.

In another invitation, Batya invites us to celebrate Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh Tevet at Chanukah, Ladies, Rosh Chodesh Tevet in Shiloh!.

See pictures of the Temple Mount by Rahel at A Visit to the Temple Mount.

Risa will raise your spirits at Creativity in the face of challenge.

It's time to celebrate! Batya tells us about an anniversary at MAZAL TOV to the IBA!.

Joel Katz presents a whole lot of information about Israel at Religion and State in Israel - November 15, 2010 (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel - November 15, 2010 (Section 2).

Jacob Richman shares some new Israeli postage stamps with us at New Israeli Educational Stamps including Bible Stories.

Harry gives movie fans an extra reason to visit Israel in Leo buying Israeli property.

Take a trip to Gedara with Risa in Memories and Music in Gedera (of all places).

Batya presents Are The Religious Taking Over The IDF, Israeli Army?.

Read about Rivkah Lambert Adler's experiences and thoughts about making aliyah in We Are Here.

They may say you can't take it with you, but if you're making aliyah or going to visit someone who has, Rivkah Lambert Adler has some suggestions for you at Kraft and Hershey's vs. Osem and Elite.

And while you're shopping, Harry has some information on group buying in Israel Online group buying comes to Israel.

Cosmic X gives us an interesting reason to visit Israel, in Harry Potter is Buried in Israel.

Ben-Yehudah presents some sweeping generalizations of Jews and Muslims in HASHEM's Blessing and Moslem Jealousy - 01.

Daniel Ben Shmuel opposses the latest settlement freeze at Netanyahu's Freeze Continues (audio).

Ben-Yehudah writes about Jewish expulsion in Guest Post: Moderate Rabbis Become Most Extreme.

SnoopyTheGoon presents Al-Qaeda recognizes Israel as Jewish and democratic state.

Independent Patriot/Elise presents US State Department, Israel and the Jewish People: Delegitimization, Double Standard and Demonization.

SnoopyTheGoon presents Jean-Luc Godard and his critics.

Diane Diego says, "Twitter offers a quick and easy way for theology professors to offer insight and advice and even advise about upcoming events. Here are twenty theologians, pastors and theology professors worth a follow on Twitter.:" 20 Theology Professors Worth Following on Twitter.

Shira Salamone describes a modesty problem relevant to all women, regardless of how frum we are or not, in Cheap manufacturers, or anything to save a buck :(.

David Levy points us to the November edition of the Jewish Book Carnival, which featuers links to blog posts about Jewish books from around the web at November Jewish Book Carnival.

Food and Music:
Enjoy a nostalgic walk down memory lane regarding Reese's peanut butter cups and then end up with a fabulous solution in case your synagogue, like mine, is a peanut-free zone by reading Mirjam Weiss's post and recipe at Kiddush Club.

Harry treats us to a persimmon salad recipe perfect for fall at Sharon Fruits.

Mirjam Weiss also has a corn muffin recipe for us. Be sure to heed her warning to melt the butter first! Feeling Flush.

Bridget Nicholson presents 50 Best Blogs for Exploring Classical Music .

You just can't get a deal in the US like the one Benji Lovitt shows us at I Swear I Don't Make This Stuff Up.

Heshy Fried uses humor to discuss a proposed new law to ban circumcision in San Francisco Brit Milah�Ban.

For those suffering from Heblish, Mrs. S. offers some help at Heblish: Support group edition.

Tim Dalton gives us some humor, although it's not exactly Jewish, at 50 All-Time Funniest Church Marquee Signs.

Yechezkel says this belongs under the category "Humor" so that's where I'm putting it even though I don't get the joke: Reform's New Direction and Orthodoxy.

Sometimes we make the right decision for one reason, and then are glad of it later for other reasons, as Mordechai Torczyner shows us in The man who mistook his religion for a hat.

Batya also talks about a decision she made at Priorities, Why We Left The IBA Party Early.

Speaking of decisions, what you decide to call yourself and/or your children can have repercussions for years to come, as told by Hadassah Sabo Milner at What’s in a name? | In the Pink. Don't miss the interesting stories in the comments section as well.

Cosmic X writes about the passing of an artist, may his memory be a blessing, at Artist Morris Katz Passes Away.

Rickismom shows her problem-solving skills in The Screw That Wouldn't Screw.

Hadassah Sabo Milner tells us about her experience as a panalist at a social networking event at Shmoozing.

How you can participate:
You may submit your blog post for the next edition of Haveil Havalim by using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

The Trouble with Tefillin

By Susan Esther Barnes

I'm fortunate. I don't have a lot of "Jewish baggage," those bad feelings that stem from negative early experiences with synagogues or rabbis or Hebrew school or whatever. All the Jewish stuff I remember from my childhood (and, I admit, there wasn't much of it) are positive memories.

But when I think of tefillin, the first thing I think of are stern, old men with white beards who think I'm beneath their notice. When I remind myself that is an unfair sterotype, the next thing I think of is the young men in I saw Israel in public places trying to get other men to lay tefillin, and ignoring me.

When I try to push myself past that, the third thing I think of is the Women of the Wall wanting to wear tefillin at the Kotel and being told they can't. And they don't even count themselves as a minyan.

That's a lot of negativity to lay on two little ritual objects that have never done me any harm on their own.

So I was feeling some ambivalence on Friday as I swung by the Post Office to trade in the "we have a package for you" delivery slip for the box I knew contained the tefillin I had ordered.

It had come all the way from Ashdod, Israel, and apparently it was not an easy trip. I was a bit alarmed to see the box was smashed and even ripped open on one end. It was then wrapped in US Post Office tape and stamped with a disclaimer that it had been received damaged.

I not only had to sign for the package, I also had to sign something to acknowledge that the US Postal Service said they had received the package already damaged. The nice Post Office lady told me shipments within the US are insured, but she has no idea how I'd make a claim about a smashed international package if the contents were damaged. Oh, joy.

Fortunately, (sort of - I'm still feeling ambivalent), when I got the box home and opened it, everything appeared to be in good shape. Like I'm a tefillin inspection expert, but the boxes with the prayers in them don't look broken, the leather straps are still attached, and the Certificate saying they're Kosher isn't wrinkled or torn.

The unfortunate part is, now that they're here, I need to face all that baggage I've been carrying around. I was going to say "...carrying around about them," but some helpful part of my mind is insisting that my baggage is not about these tefillin, it's about those tefillin I've seen on men who thought I had no business wearing them.

So, one day soon, maybe tonight, I'm going to take a deep breath, unwrap these tefillin, and try them on. And pray a little. And see how it feels.

Then next week I'll make an appointment with my rabbi and bring them in, so he can confirm I'm putting them on correctly. And we'll talk about them, and how I'm planning to use them.

I hope that, slowly, over time, these tefillin will help me to set aside my baggage and to make peace with those tefillin. I hope I'll learn not to feel silly praying with a box on my head and on my arm. I hope I can get comfortable with them.

Because until then, they feel a little bit like invaders from the world of "These aren't for you. You aren't good enough." I can't even begin to discover whether they have the potential to become a meaningful part of my ritual practice until I can make peace with them and welcome them into my home as friends. And that is so not where I am right now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pet Peeve: Business Hours

By Susan Esther Barnes

Disclaimer: My husband says sometimes I get too hung up on a single word or phrase. I suspect this is one of those times.

Today I needed to talk with my email provider about my account via live chat. It was some nonsense about how when we moved two years ago they closed my old internet account and opened a new one, but my email account wasn’t moved so my email would be disabled unless I gave them permission to transfer my email account to my active internet account.

That was mildly irritating in itself, but then they told me the issue would be corrected in “24 to 72 business hours.” What the heck does that mean?

I spent 15 years managing customer service call centers, and any time I noticed a phone representative referring to “business hours,” I reminded them that all of our timeframes were given in “business days,” not “hours.”

Why? Because everyone knows what a business day is. If I say, “This will be done in one to three business days,” you know it will be done one to three days from now, unless a weekend or holiday intervenes, in which case you don’t count the weekend or holiday days. Simple.

If you say, “24 to 72 business hours,” I’m left wondering, “Do you mean one to three business days? If so, just say so.”

Because you didn’t just say so, the logical part of my brain says, “Well, if he/she didn’t use the common ‘business days’ term, he/she must have meant something else. If their business is open 12 hours a day, then 24 to 72 business hours must be two to six days, not counting weekends or holidays.”

But of course, I may not know what hours your business is open unless I ask, so I don’t know how to translate your “business hours” into “actual” days or hours. And why should you make me have to translate anyway?

In this case, just last night I saw a TV ad that says the company that provides my email has live customer service representatives available to me 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So for them, “24 to 72 business hours” not only means “one to three business days,” it actually means “one to three days” period, because they work all day and night, every day of the year.

Why can’t they just say so?

Friday, November 12, 2010

She is Pure

By Susan Esther Barnes

My day started with the strangest shopping trip I’ve ever been on. The evening before, I had been at the phone bank where we were calling congregants to ask for donations to our annual Tradition of Giving Campaign.

While I was there, Rabbi Lezak called me into a private room to let me know a member of our congregation had just died. She had been suffering from cancer for some time, and I had agreed to be one of the people to perform taharah for her, the ritual washing of her body and preparing her for burial.

I had been preparing for this for about a year, ever since Rabbi Lezak had said we were planning to expand our Bikkur Cholim group, a group of people who visit the sick, to become a Chevra Kadisha, a holy society or group of friends, to perform taharah. Although our congregation was formed over 50 years ago, to my knowledge we had never before had a Chevra Kadisha there.

I read about it, and I attended a seminar on it in San Francisco. I also attended the series of classes Rabbi Lezak offered to us at the synagogue. One evening, Sue Lefelstein, the Associate Executive Director of Sinai Memorial Chapel in Lafayette, came out to give us a copy of the procedure manual they use, and to explain the process.

The night before the congregant I mentioned above died, about 20 to 25 of us went to Sinai Memorial Chapel where Sue led us as we performed taharah on a manikin for practice.

When I first thought about doing taharah, it really freaked me out. It seemed like an incredibly scary thing to do. Then, last summer, my friend Rose died, may her memory be a blessing. I sat with her in the morning on the day she died, and suddenly taharah seemed much less frightening. How could Rose’s body ever be scary? But she had chosen not to have taharah done for her.

As I got closer to actually doing it, it became even less scary. While I stood in the room at Sinai Memorial, watching the washing of the manikin, I found myself feeling completely calm. I was prepared.

Except we as a Chevra Kadisha weren’t entirely prepared. We had only just finished the training the night before when we learned of this congregant’s death. If she and her family had chosen Sinai Memorial, or any Jewish establishment, as her mortuary, they would have had all the taharah supplies available to us on hand.

This family had chosen a non-religious mortuary, however, which meant we couldn’t be sure what supplies they would have available to us. And because our tradition is to bury people within 48 hours of death whenever feasible, that meant we would be doing taharah on her the next day. Thus, my sudden shopping trip for taharah supplies.

Fortunately, Sue, the angel from Sinai Memorial, had given us a list of things we would need. I grabbed my list and headed to Target, arriving just as they opened at 8am. For all I knew, the mortuary might be ready for us as early as 9:30 or 10, and I didn’t want to hold things up.

As I walked down the aisles, I thought about my odd list and how I didn’t want to say anything that might get me arrested. For instance, when I asked a clerk where I could find nail polish remover, I thought, “If she says something like, ‘We recommend this one because it has aloe which is good for the long term health of your nails,’ it would probably be a bad idea for me to respond with something like, ‘Oh, I’m not worried about that. We’re only going to be using it on dead people.’”

As I was at the check-out counter, Rabbi Lezak called on my cell phone to tell me the coffin delivery was delayed due to it being Veteran’s Day, and therefore we wouldn’t be able to do taharah until the afternoon. So it turned out there had been no need to rush.

Although my heart was racing as I drove the last few blocks to the mortuary, as we met with Rabbi Lezak and talked about the woman who had died and what we were going to do, I relaxed.

When we walked into the preparation room (without the rabbi, since only women are allowed to wash women), I found I was perfectly calm. I thought I would feel a jolt of anxiety the first time I saw a real person covered by a sheet, but I didn’t.

So we washed her, and one of us said the prayers, and we poured the ritual water over her while we repeated three times in Hebrew, “She is pure, she is pure, she is pure.” Then we dried her and dressed her. It was all done with deliberate, loving care.

She had been ill for so long and had lost so much weight that we didn’t need to use the electric lift to move her into the coffin. I had the privilege of being one of the three people to move her.

I will never forget the feeling as I cradled her in my arms and gently lowered her into her coffin. The only way I can describe it is it felt purely, wholly right. We covered the coffin and asked her forgiveness for anything we may have omitted, or any error, or anything we may have done to offend her.

I thought, “This is such a beautiful thing. How could anyone who knows about taharah not want it done for themselves and for their loved ones? Why would anyone want this done by strangers, no matter how competent they may be, rather than by their own, loving community?”

Afterward, we spent about 20 minutes talking with each other, as a transition before we hugged each other and got into our cars to leave.

Because we had started so late, it was already getting dark. Usually I equate darkness with lifelessness, but as I drove home I found myself feeling deeply aware of the incredible abundance of life all around me.

As I navigated my way through the rush hour traffic, I found that whereas when I drive I normally think of the cars around me as just vehicles, I was suddenly acutely aware that inside each vehicle was a person. As I drove I was part of a stream of living, breathing, human beings all heading in the same direction down the freeway.

On several occasions I have heard Rabbi Lezak say, “Get close to death. It will bring you closer to life.” I thought I knew what he meant, but now I finally understand.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Surprises Come in Threes

By Susan Esther Barnes

It's been a month of surprises.

First it was Thomas-kitty, poor thing, who had to take two trips to the vet. Both of our cats get pretty freaked out at the vet, and who can blame them? They get shoved in a box, take a car ride, during which Thomas gets car sick, then some stanger pokes & prods them and sticks a needle into them.

So Thomas, who at home assumes every human who walks through the front door must be there to pet him, hisses and spits at the vet staff. They are very nice people, and they try to pet him and make friends before they do whatever they have to do, but both our cats have large, clear warning labels on their file to tell the staff to watch out.

One time after we boarded the cats there, the summary from the staff said of Thomas' sister, "We tried every day to pet Amber, but she let us know that if we tried to touch her there would be a fight, and she made it quite clear who would win."

So, after eight years of the vet staff unsuccessfully trying to make nice with Thomas, on his last visit they determined they couldn't get him to stay still enough for the x-ray he needed, and they had to muzzle him.

Lo and behold, as soon as the muzzle was on, Thomas relaxed. Note in this picture how his ears are up, not flat back as they would be if he were scared. Note how relaxed his right paw is. He is not using it to try to push himself away. In fact, the staff says he was purring. They were so amazed, they took this picture. To paraphrase an old saying, blind cat finds a bone. Go figure.

The second surprise was on Monday this week when I found out that the husband of someone I know had hit her so badly she had to spend a couple of days in the hospital. Sure, it's something you hear about, but it's completely different when it happens to someone you know.

Of course she feels embarrassed about it, and of course she has absolutely nothing to be embarrased about. She says he has yelled at her before, but this is the first time he's hit her. The only good thing about it is it looks like it'll be the last time. There's a restraining order against him and she acknowledges the marriage is over.

The third surprise is my oldest niece started a blog. Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Four a.m. Conversation

By Susan Esther Barnes

Readers of my blog may recall that sometimes my husband snores, which keeps me awake, so I end up sleeping on the coach downstairs. You can read about it here and here.

He feels guilty about it, and on more than one occasion he has suggested that instead of going downstairs myself, I should send him out to go sleep on the couch instead. Below is the dialogue that ensued this morning around 4 o'clock, the first time I decided to take his advice:

Him: Snore, snore.

I reach over and try to get him to roll over.

Him: Snore, snore.

Again I try to get him to roll over. He very gently slaps my hand away, and says, "Cut it out."

I say, "Roll over please, you're snoring."

He responds grumpily, "I am not. I'm not even sleeping any more."

I say, "You will be soon, and you're snoring. Why don't you go sleep on the couch downstairs?"

He responds, in a shocked voice, "That's mean!"

I remind him, "You told me I should tell you to do that."

He retorts, "That's stupid. Don't do things I tell you to do that are stupid." Immediately he falls back asleep and starts to snore again.

If our relationship were different than it is, I suppose I would feel angry or betrayed. Instead, I think it's hysterical, and as I head downstairs to the couch, I can't wait to find out later what, if anything, he remembers of the conversation. Which, of course, turns out to be almost nothing.

Still, we both had a good laugh about it. And you can bet that some time, when he least expects it, he's going to ask me to do something, and I'm going to say, "That's stupid. And you told me not to do things you say that are stupid." It's our newest "inside joke."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Homing Pigeon

By Susan Esther Barnes

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I could feel that my blood pressure was significantly higher than normal. I know high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because most people can’t feel it, but I can. One day I expect to write a post about how feeling God’s presence is like feeling your blood pressure. You can learn to sense it once you discover what to pay attention to.

I took one of my cats to the vet last week because of an inconvenient but non-emergency issue that arose. They did an exam and sent some samples to the lab. Today, I had to take him back so they could do some more lab work and take an X-ray. I’m worried about the cat.

Also, Thursday before last, I went to seek some medical advice for myself due to something unusual I noticed, and I ended up getting an unscheduled mammogram. At first the nurse practitioner said she’d call me that afternoon with the results. Then, after the mammogram lady looked at that day’s images, she said they were going to order copies of the images from my mammogram from last year to compare, and it would take three or four days before they got back to me.

After a week I still hadn’t heard anything, so I sent an email asking what was up (I made the appointment online so I didn’t have the phone number). The next day I got an email back saying they don’t know, but they’d call me back that afternoon. Monday I sent another email. As of Monday night I still hadn’t heard anything. So, yeah, my blood pressure was high.

This morning I was in the car, driving the vociferously unhappy cat to the vet, knowing he’s got something wrong with him but not being sure whether or not they’ll have an effective way to treat it, while at the same time wondering whether I have breast cancer, and whether the delay in getting the results to me is giving it extra time to grow and/or spread. I know I tend to over-react to this sort of thing, but that’s where my head was.

I exited the freeway, and suddenly realized I had gone one exit too far, mistakenly taking the exit to the synagogue, not the exit for the vet. Even with the cat crying in his carrier in the seat beside me, like a homing pigeon I had subconsciously headed to a place of comfort rather than my intended destination.

I very much wanted to drive to the synagogue and go sit in the quiet sanctuary, soaking up God’s presence and the serenity and strength of community permeating that special room. Just ten or fifteen minutes could have done wonders.

I’m pretty sure the cat wouldn’t have appreciated that, though, so I turned left and headed down the road to the vet. I then turned on some cheery music in the car as I drove to work, where I settled in to wait for results for both of us.

Then I decided, “screw that,” and I dug around online until I found a phone number for the medical office I’d been to and I talked to a nurse, who looked at my results. She said the mammogram looked "pretty normal" and they recommend a regularly scheduled follow-up mammogram in two years, which is what I believe they recommend for every woman my age. She says they mailed me a letter with the good news yesterday.

I’m still going to take those ten or fifteen minutes in the sanctuary later on this week, though. As a wise person once said, if you only hang out with God when you’re worried about something or want something, what kind of relationship is that? Certainly not one fit for a homing pigeon.