Sitting in the Valley of Tears

Shabbat evening, Friday, October 26, 2018.  I am sitting in the stone-floored lobby of my synagogue, afloat in music, feeling my week’s tension being carried away on a wave.

Leonard Cohen’s melody for “Hallelujah” is being transformed and elevated as we fill it with the words of “Lecha Dodi,” welcoming the Shabbat Queen.  I remember the exact moment at which I felt the release, the peace of letting go of everything that vexed me:

Rav lach shevet b’emek habacha – “You have dwelled too long in the valley of tears.” Read More

Thinking Too Much?

It’s Thanksgiving Day and my house is bursting at the seams – and this isn’t where we’re having dinner.  Even with runny noses and upset tummies – and standing in the cold waiting for one of my children to cross the finish line of the Turkey Trot – there is love and warmth everywhere.

That’s not true.  Not everywhere.  Caren called my office this week to refill her blood pressure medication, and she was in a foul mood.  “My family doesn’t want me around for the holidays.  This season is really hard for me.”  Later that same afternoon, Michael, an anxious man in his early thirties, confided in me that he was trying hard to stabilize a housing situation that was beyond his means, “but it’s really tough – I have no one to lean on and I’m doing this all myself.”  They are not feeling the love.

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Thought Bubbles

I had a sobering exchange Sunday afternoon with a new friend.  We had met recently at a conference and we were talking about suspicion and distrust between doctors and patients.

“I’d love to do a presentation showing the little thought bubbles above the doctor’s head,” he laughed.  “You can’t possibly be paying attention the whole time.”

I didn’t have to answer him for him to know he hit the nail on the head.  We can’t possibly be paying attention the whole time.  I know the feeling of distraction all too well – from extreme fatigue, from worrying about how far behind schedule I am, from ruminating over a bad interaction with the previous patient, or most recently from massive emotional trauma (see the “Three Healers Who Listen” posts from earlier this month). Read More

Loving the Label

One of the first “sermons” I ever gave was for student High Holiday services in 1993.  I spoke about a camper I had worked with more than once, a kid who had always been marked as a “bad kid,” but in whom I had found a sweet demeanor and a fascinating personality.  He was really coming around – until he stole money out of another kid’s wallet.  “No more tears,” I pleaded with him in the sermon.

I don’t know what made him decide, at that moment when he was finally shedding his troubled image, to lift five dollars from one of his bunkmates.  But I know I see this kind of thing happening often in my work – and the stakes are a lot higher than getting sent home early from camp.

Twice recently, I’ve heard from people I care for who have months or even years of sobriety to their name, but the image, the label just won’t go away.  Either they are still surrounded by the people and situations that facilitated their substance dependency in the first place, or they continue to be stigmatized in the present for behavior in the past.  Read More

Three Healers Who Listen – Dan

Shema prayer

My siddur, my prayerbook, is now part of a crime scene, a killing field.

The slim, cloth-bound, all-Hebrew book is called Va-ani T’filati, “I am my prayer,” and was the one I carried with me in the same bag as my tallit and tefillin wherever I took them.  On October 20, I returned home from celebrating our friends’ daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah in the Tree of Life sanctuary to realize that my bag felt lighter than it should.  About one small, hard-cover book lighter.

It was, of course, in the book rack on the back of the pew, in the center-left section of the sanctuary about 10 rows back, just where I left it.  No worries.  I had a busy week, but on Thursday, October 25, I remember to e-mail the Tree of Life office to ask if someone could locate it.  I would pick it up . . . later. Read More

Three Healers Who Listen – Rich

The Hebrew letters often hint at a common object: bet hints at bayit, a house.  Gimel hints at gamal, a camel.  And shin?  Why, shen, of course – tooth.

I like to think that the reason for this is that shin, or rather sin, which is the same letter with the dot moved to the other side, is also the first letter in sameach, happy.  And what do we do when we are happy?  We smile and show our teeth.

My colleague Rich Gottfried smiled all the time; as people spoke at his funeral, or around the office this week, almost all took note of his smile.  He was the Hines Ward of dentists, it would seem – always smiling. Read More

Three Healers Who Listen: Jerry

Smiling doctor with bowtie

“Do not console a person whose deceased relative lies before him” Pirke Avot 4:23

Well, now we have begun to bury them; the time of consolation for the families and community of my murdered friends has begun.  They are no longer lying before us and we must begin to fix their memories in our minds.

Among the dead October 27th were two men who epitomized the title of this site: “Healers who Listen.”  A third still clings to life and with God’s help may recover to help the rest of us heal.  Over the next three days I will remember each of them. Read More

Look Up

Look up.

Look up to the sky, said God to Abraham, and count the stars, if you can.  That’s how many descendants you will have, how numerous your people will be.

Look up u to the sky, said the last generation of doctors to this one, and count the stars, if you can.  That’s how many lives you will save, how many hearts you will touch, how many stories you will change. Read More

“I Will Bless Those Who Bless You”

It must hurt when someone who was a victim of South African apartheid turns to you and tells you, “Go back where you came from!”

Or when you and your four children and your pregnant wife end up in an Indonesian prison for want of enough money to pay a bogus fine that is only being charged because you’re not from around there.

Or when you dodge the Malaysian police every day running between your three jobs that they don’t want you to have, all so you don’t have to go back to the military slave labor camp across the border. Read More

More than Homeless

I spent a lot of Wednesday thinking about homelessness.  There’s a gauntlet of folks who line Centre Avenue outside PPG Paints Arena during large events like the Elton John concert I attended that night.  Some identify as veterans, others have service dogs parked by them with signs saying, “homeless and boneless,” and still others rely on their talents with a saxophone, but all are trying to work the crowd for a few coins or bills.  I took my change from Roz at the concession stand in singles, so I could tip her and have ones left to hand to the folks I passed on the way out of the concert. Read More

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