Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's Good to be Alive

By Susan Esther Barnes
with art by Laurie at Urchinator

Last night was the first Friday of the month, which means our synagogue held its monthy free congregatinal dinner after services. Everyone is invited.

We've been having these dinners for a few years now, and up until last night nothing even remotely threatening had ever revealed itself to me at any of them. So I had grown atypically unwary by the time I was ready to help myself to a big plate of pasta primavera. Just before I sat down, an aquaintance said to me, "The pasta is great! I think there's salmon in it."

I had noticed something reddish in the pasta, but I had assumed it was bell pepper. I leaned in a little closer, and sure enough, among the bow ties and peas and such, there were little bits of flaky pink things that looked suspiciously like salmon.

Of course, that is no big deal to the lox and bagel set. But it's something else entirely for someone like me with an allergy bad enough so the last time I tasted rice from the fork of someone who had been eating salmon, it caused my throat to swell to the point it was difficult to swallow.

It seems God must have been watching over me for me to be lucky enough to have someone inadvertently warn me about the salmon in such a timely manner.

Had I not received the warning, it's possible I would have taken one forkful and then spat it out upon recognizing the salmon taste. It wouldn't have been pretty, and I may have experienced some discomfort in my mouth and throat, but most likely I would have been fine.

But if I weren't so quick on the uptake, and I had swallowed some of it, things most likely would have gone downhill for me rather quickly. My evening could have included a dash to my car for my epinephrine injector, a ride in an ambulance, and some quality time in an ER or even the morgue.

After I got home and told my husband what had happened, he said he wished I didn't have such a severe allergy. Clearly, he wants me to stay alive a while longer. I do, too, but I can't find it in myself to wish I didn't have this allergy.

Incidents like this one remind me of how fragile life is, and make me feel grateful to be alive. This morning, when I thanked God for returning my soul to me, I said it with more emunah, or faithfulness, than I usually do.

Naturally, I started to think about what things would have been like if I hadn't received the warning and as a result I hadn't been able to make it to services this morning. I expect the clergy and my friends would have been at least startled about my crisis the night before.

Still, the bar mitzvah ceremony would have gone on. There still would have been a man standing in the aisle with a small boy in his arms while the bar mitzvah boy carried the Torah scroll through the congregation. The man still would have taken the little boy's hand and used it to gently stroke the Torah once, twice, three times.

But if I had not been there to see it, I would not have had the opportunity to tell that man how his gesture of passing love of the Torah down through the generations had made my eyes well up with tears. And he would have lost the opportunity to thank me for saying so, and to have his eyes well up with tears as we agreed what a sweet and holy moment it was.

So, yes, it is good to be alive, and it is good sometimes to be reminded of just how good it is.


  1. Close call. You should require ingredient listings on all foods.
    When we made a 60th for my husband, the kids chose the menu from what the restaurant offered and included grilled vegetables, "for those allergic to milk/lactose." Afterwards we were given the left-over food to take home. I asked what was parve.
    "What about the grilled vegetables?"
    "No, that is sprinkled with cheese to give it a special flavor."
    I never would have guessed and take nothing for granted when it comes to kashrut, dairy, fish, gluten etc.

  2. Blessings come to us in many ways don't they. If your friend hadn't warned you then you could have had a rough night. I am glad it all worked out well for you! (btw... stick your EPI pen in your pocketbook... just my EMT talking hehe)

  3. Christine -
    Thanks for the advice. I do carry an EPI pen (the injector) in my purse, but I don't take my purse into the synagogue on Shabbat.

  4. So scary and such a close call! I'm glad everything's okay and you did a good job of writing light-heartedly about a tough topic! & for the record: I am so in the lox set! Love that wording! :)

  5. Thank G-d you're alright. Take care of yourself.

  6. in fact, i am pretty sure that all of our Mitzvah Kitchen challah is completely fish-free, but i would totally worry about salmon in the wine (though, as i recall, you are not much of a drinker)!