Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gift of a Yom Kippur in Bed

I felt it coming but didn't relate the symptoms until they converged upon me -- around 5:05 p.m. yesterday -- smack in the middle of my "Evidence and Inference" class.

The sky had darkened dramatically and without warning. The wind whipped up. A ferocious rain beat down on Broadway. I tried to act like a graduate student and not look out the window. Casting surreptitious glances to my left, I was astonished that no one seemed to notice that Armageddon was upon us. The guest lecturer continued his class. The students nodded with intellectual intent and took notes. But I was the kid with the A.D.D., barely able to constrain herself from rushing to the window and shouting: "OMIGOD!!! Do you see this storm????"

What did restrain me, though, was the simultaneous acknowledgement that the dull pain I had been feeling in my back and bones for the past few days, the pressure in my sinuses, the throbbing headache, my increasing nasal congestion and drip, my urge to run to the bathroom every few seconds added up to one incontrovertible fact: I was sick.

And on the eve of the eve of Yom Kippur, too.

Well, despite my best holistic efforts to overcome this illness by natural means -- horrendously bitter tincture of echinacea and goldenseal, gallons of green tea, gentle exercise and a sweat fest in the steam room of the JCC locker room spiced by drops of tea tree oil which burned my skin -- it is the eve of Yom Kippur and I'm sicker than I even was yesterday, feverish, indeed.

So, as my family finishes their seudah mafseket* and takes their seven sips of water before the advent of the 25-hour fast and their departure to Ramath Orah for the Kol Nidrei service, I am shivering in bed, covered with a woolen blanket from my late mother-in-law's house in Westport, CT, blowing my nose every few minutes, trying to self-diagnose.

I've got it narrowed down to strep throat, bronchitis or the flu. It might also be a killer cold.

It goes without saying that I am not going to shul tonight, in fact, when HOBB declared, half an hour ago, that he didn't think it was a good idea for me to go out tonight, I started laughing. Middle Babe and Little Babe, seated at the dinner table, were casting me concerned looks as I snuffled and spoke in a barely audible nasal monotone. My illness is so obvious that I could not believe he thought I would even entertain such a notion.

Though I am possessed of a macho instinct to fight off impending illnesses, I know when to admit defeat. Right now, I'm at the stage where I am considering calling the doctor because I might need antibiotics.

Being me -- that is, ridiculously, excessively, childishly introspective -- I am attempting to examine the meaning of this Yom Kippur affliction, or more exactly, trying to extract meaning from it. Liberated or barred from a community prayer service tonight, depending on how you look at it, I will endeavor to read the Kol Nidrei service by myself, with an eye towards seeing something I had never seen before.

From their home in Great Neck, my parents, FOBB and MOBB, just called with their pre-Yom Kippur wishes. Their kindly voices imploring me to stay in bed, drink fluids (despite the fast) and keep my feet warm returned me to my long-ago childhood, to the remarkable feeling of standing on the cusp of Yom Kippur, when I was overcome with awe at the notion of the Gates of Heaven opening for humankind to petition God.

Their wishes for my recovery and for a sweet, healthy and happy year, was spiritual medicine, removing me from the often-cynical sense of despair I am afflicted with in my adult life. Their unambiguous love for me and Jewish tradition made me certain that there is a unique gift to a Yom Kippur spent in bed.

Thus edified, from my bedroom perch on Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street I am momentarily strengthened to send out wishes to all of humanity for a sweet, healthy and happy year.

*final meal before a fast

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