Monday, March 25, 2013

Mi K'Amcha Yisroel-- Who is Like You Oh Israel- Reflection on a KidneyTransplant

Dear Henry,
       I know that usually, when I write to you, I have a tendency to use a light, almost humorous tone. Let me warn you, dear Henry, that today will be a bit more of a serious tone. I wanted to write to you about an experience, as I escorted my friend to the hospital as he donated his kidney to a person he had never before met. My experience undoubtedly was one of the most profound experiences of my entire life.
      The profoundness of the day actually began as soon as we walked into the hospital. As I sat with my buddy in the waiting room, I looked around at everyone around me, wondering why was each one of them there. Some were undoubtedly awaiting the results of very risky surgeries. As I looked around and saw the agony and suffering in their faces, I began to get an inkling of how much we take our lives for granted. Some of us complain because we have a lot of stress in our lives. Some of us looking for jobs; others stressed out about term papers or tests. Spending time in a hospital waiting room is all that one needs to do to realize the triviality of it all. Spending time in a hospital is all it takes for one to wake up, and actually appreciate all of the gifts that one really does have.
    The most powerful moments of my life has been the first moment I met each one of my children. Standing in a hospital room, with my wife, and a nurse, three of us in total, and then, all of the sudden, when there is that cry from my baby, and now suddenly, there are four of us in the room-- that moment is beyond words, and is to me, a clear proof of G-ds incredible existence. However, right up there, as one of the most meaningful moments of my life, was when I had the privilege to watch my friend meet the recipient and his lovely wife and children, for the first time, shortly before the surgery. My friends incredible heart-felt love for this man was palpable-- as was his, and his family's-- love for my friend. Everyone around had tears streaming down their faces as we realized in this world of pain and suffering, what man is capable of. We realized, as one family member observed, that G-d has angels that He uses to carry out His plan, and my friend, is one such angel. I later tried to describe this interaction to someone else, but could not get the words out, as I became too emotional.
    I was further impacted on this day, after my buddy and I went to a different type of waiting room, called the "bikur cholim." Shortly after arriving at the hospital, they told us we could go wait in the bikur cholim. The Bikur cholim is a lounge which is stocked daily from donations of various Orthodox Jewish communities around the NYC area. It is food that the community donates for the sake of the sick patients, and the family members. In addition, there is a synagogue, with daily minyanim (prayer quorums of 10 men) which is made up of patients, family members, and Torah-observant doctors. It was here that I stayed throughout the duration of the 5 hour surgery, praying for my friend's successful surgery. Seeing this Bikur Cholim, and seeing the volunteers constantly returning to restock the fridge and the supplies reminded me of how special our People is-- a nation unlike any other.
    As I sat there, awaiting the results of the surgery, I thought to myself how appropriate it is that this happened right now, a week before Passover. During the Passover seder we say, "B'Chol Dor vador chayav adam liros es atzmo k'ilu hu yatzah m'mitzrayim." "In every generation a person is required to view himself as if he himself left Egypt." Therefore- on the seder night, each one of us has a mitzvah to experience a transformation whereby we leave from a state of bondage to a state of freedom. Our great Rabbis teach us that this is very difficult to achieve-- to relive the exodus. We are currently living in the comfort of the 21st Century, with tremendous freedom. How are we supposed to relive the exodus? I thought to myself, that each one of us has our own personal Egypt- we all have our personal struggles and challenges and our job is to overcome them. Then I thought, that for this recipient- this amazing man-- what would he be thinking on Pesach? Perhaps it would be easier for him to relate to this mitzvah-- he is leaving the misery and pain of life on constant dialysis- tremendous suffering and repeated hospital visits. This Pesach- he can G-d willing experience, a true form of physical freedom- a true personal redemption.
     Yet another profoundly impactful  moment was watching the doctor relay to the family the good news that the operation was successful. That sight is a sight I never want to forget- seeing the pure joyful exuberance and delight, and the demeanor of all of the family members. Such pure, unadulterated joy and delight. And I thought about it, and I asked myself, what are they rejoicing over? They are rejoicing over the fact that G-d-willing their holy father and husband will be granted a longer life, and a life with no more pain and physical anguish. Then I asked myself- do we ever take pleasure, joy and delight in the mere fact that we are alive? Do we take pleasure in the fact that we are not constantly experiencing physical pain and anguish? Do we ever actively celebrate the fact that our kidneys function properly, and we are able to relieve ourselves unassisted? In Judaism we have a blessing called Asher Yatzar, which thanks G-d for the ability to go to the bathroom. How often do we say this blessing? For those of us who do, do we feel the exuberance that should naturally come with it?
    On a similar note, another impactful moment was the first question my friend asked me in the recovery room, when he was drugged, and in pain-- "Did the transplant work? Is the other man okay?" His only concern was not with himself, but with the person to whom he gave his kidney.
    I had the zechus (merit) to assist my buddy in the hospital the night after the operation. I slept pretty well on a reclining chair, and the next day my friend told me what a miserable night of sleep he had. He told me that because of the incision, he was physically unable to sit up, when he couldn't sleep-- so he was stuck, laying on his back, waiting for the long night to end. The next morning he told me, that he never in his life was so appreciative for the ability to physically sit up. He told me how terrifying it was to be confined to his back, how helpless it was to not be able to move. And I realized, that as a rabbi, I often teach people how to appreciate everything we have. But even I never considered the enormous blessing we have with the ability to sit up in bed. What would a paraplegic give for the opportunity to sit up? Have I ever stopped to appreciate the awesomeness that comes with being able to move my limbs and my body? How fortunate are we for this incredible gift?
    As the man who runs this organization that facilitated the transplant left home at about 8 PM, (after having facilitated two transplants that day) I though about the conversation he would have with his wife that evening. "Hi honey, what did you do at work today? "Not too much- just saved two lives today." We should all do work that we can take pride in, and that gives us joy and satisfaction.
     Yet another impactful moment, actually occurred several times, as new nurses and doctors entered the room. They asked my friend, how do you know the person to whom you donated your kidney? My friend told them, he did not know him-- he was merely a fellow Jew. Seeing their faces of surprise and incredible admiration was very touching. For as Jews, we are one family, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When a family member needs something, wouldn't we run and do anything we can to help them?
    The Holy Temple was destroyed beause of baseless hatred. We should all follow my friend's lead-- and baselessly love each other, and this Passover we should all find ourselves back in our Holy Land, celebrating Moshiach's arrival, may it be speedily and soon.

Danny Wolfe

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Where have all the Towels Gone?

Dear Henry,
      As a life-long vegetarian (except on Purim) hailing from the majestic Rocky Mountains, I am, by nature, a man of nature. Heck, my tweeter photograph (follow me at dannywolfe1) is of me sniffing a blossoming yellow dandelion in the Holiest of all lands. My idea of a good time, is to frolic and prance in a Peruvian Meadow,  or a Kazakstani rain forest in the midst of the summer. As such a man of nature, I am all for the international trend of going Green. It is a good idea. Natural is better.
      But Henry, I ask you, AT WHAT COST?!?! You see, dear Henry, I recently moved to cloudy Albany, the capital of this lovely little state of ours. I spend my days sitting in the wonderful campus center, and I love every part of my day: Sitting at the tables, speaking with the most inspirational students, occasionally watching Stephen A Smith go at it with Skip Bayless  on ESPN, and eating a bagel from Dreidels. I even recently discovered an amazing store called Outakes, where they sell me hot cups of water for my Super Duper, life changing fast lane tea for 25 cents, and they even sell odwalla energy bars for 99 cents. There is one, or two parts of my day, however, that I absolutely dread. Heck, I dread it more than a Panda Bear Cub dreads coming out of the Arctic Sea on a wintry Alaskan morning. What is it, exactly, oh Henry, that I dread? Henry, I dread going to the bathroom. Why, you might ask? Because there is a widely accepted American custom to wash ones hands after going potty. And for some reason, Henry, unbeknownst to me, the sinks do not provide one with the option of controlling the water temperature. Thus, the water comes out scorching hot--hotter even, than a mid-summers hike in Ein Gedi. Hotter than the Chicago Blackhawks, and even hotter than burning hot. Henry, if these sinks had what we would call "knobs" then I would go ahead and turn on the colder side so as not to burn my precious little hands.
       BUT,  Henry, and this is the big but-- these sinks have no such knobs. And what is worse, is that after one burns one's hands, one lacks the theoretical option of drying them, with an old fashion device called "paper towels." There are no paper towels in Albany, Henry. Rather, all there is is an automatic dryer which promises that "Your hands will be dry in 12 seconds or less." I wish this was true. It is not. It is a filthy lie. My hands don't get dry in 12 seconds. Perhaps if I left them in for thirty seconds. However, if I had this handy dandy little tool called "paper towels" I would have dry hands in three seconds or less. Thus, every time I go to the bathroom, I cringe at the thought of burning my hands, and then being unable to properly dry them, after they have been thoroughly scorched.
      The Talmud teaches us, "Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has." Judaism teaches that the key to happiness is to appreciate what we do have. Many times in life we don't appreciate what we have, until it is gone. After all, they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. I never cherish my nose, for example, until its so stuffed up with mucous (Perhaps too graphic of a description) that I cannot fully appreciate the taste of my wife's deliciously delicious food she has cooked, especially for me. Have you ever realized how valuable our nose is, for the culinary enjoyment of eating? We never appreciate the state of not having a headache, until we have a horrific pounding migraine, and we would do ANYTHING to have our heads return to feeing normal. Do we only call out to G-d when we are in most dire need, or do we stop, and thank G-d even when the going is good? Judaism teaches that the first thing we do every morning when we wake up is thank G-d for returning our souls to us. When we pray, three times a day, every day, we thank G-d for the blessings He has bestowed upon us.  I never realized how special paper towels were, until they disappeared from my life in Albany. I took them for granted. Now that they are gone, I long for them. When I am in my own home, not in the UAlbany bathrooms, I take ENORMOUS pleasure in turning on the cold water knob, and then proceeding to dry my hands with a good old fashion paper towel. I have learned to be more appreciative if mundane, precious gifts G-d has given us.
       Life is like a paper towel in Albany. Precious. We sure as heck better cherish it while we have it.

Yours truly,
Danny Wolfe