Shalom! I have asked you to join me today to mark an important passage in my life, and in my healing. You have each given so much of yourselves to share this journey with me -thank you for being here now, as you have been all along.
I hope to turn this into sacred time and space – to take the next few moments to invite the sacred and holy into our lives. Our ancestors have used the mikvah, or ritual bath, as a means to spiritual cleansing and symbolic purification since Biblical days. And at this juncture, when I pray for both cleansing and healing, it is my hope that we each gain a sense of wholeness and purity through this ceremony.
We could have gone to the mikvah today, and yet I chose this public place. I hoped this would be both fun and relaxing, but this space also symbolizes the role of community in my healing, and in all our lives. We can never really know whose path we will cross, and what that will come to mean for us. So while this may feel awkward, thank you for helping me use this opportunity to mark the end of one phase of treatment, and prepare for the next.
Everyday life is filled with precious moments, sacred moments...
We only need choose to acknowledge and accept them.
"It is You who lights my candle;
Adonai, My God, illumines the darkness."
Miriam's Well was a nourishing and spiritual oasis
Which accompanied the Israelites through the desert,
Quenching thirst and curing body and soul.
"God's is the sea, God made it;
The land – God's Hands fashioned.
Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, shehechiyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu, la-z'man ha-zeh.
You are Blessed, Our God, Spirit of the World, who keeps us in life, who sustains us and who enables us to reach this season.
I can't imagine that I will ever face a more challenging and painful time in my life than the last few months. It is so very humbling to look your deepest fears – of pain, of loneliness, of death – in the face, and continue to wake up every morning, put your feet on the floor, take a shower and begin again. When I think back on the first few days and weeks after my diagnosis, I'm still not sure how I survived them. I recall feeling so weak and betrayed. As someone else noted, the breasts that had nourished and strengthen my son's life, were now threatening my own. And worse, the only things that might save my life were in and of themselves destructive and harmful.
I wasn't sure I would ever stop crying. Every test, every nurse, every website, every thought reminding me, endlessly, how precariously my life hung in the balance. I would close my eyes and wonder if I would awaken – and so I slept little. I would try to write down all the things I needed to say, and end up unable to say anything – the task was too great. I wasn't ready to accept my immortality – I felt cheated of a sense of freedom and security to which I thought I was entitled. I couldn't bear the idea of leaving John or deserting Zachary.
And then there was the anger – at my body that betrayed me, at God who didn't protect me, at people who were healthy and didn't appreciate it, at people who "caught it early" and had a better chance of a cure, at my doctors, who failed me...the list was endless.
Once my treatments began I couldn't decide how to measure time – days were measured by tests, weeks and months gave way to cycles. I wanted desperately to be "done" – with a treatment, a cycle...and yet how could I wish away a moment? A wise friend reminded me that, in truth, nothing had changed but my awareness...that I had had cancer a month before, that I was indeed mortal – I was just more aware of my frailties. And then he asked me if I would give up my awareness if I could. Yes, it would mean leaving the cancer untreated, but he assured me that it was an option – one which many people choose. "Forget about it. Forget about the diagnosis, the treatments, and continue living without this new awareness."
Of course there was no way for me to do that...in fact, I couldn't get the cancer out of me quickly enough. But it's a double- edged sword, isn't it? And so slowly, humbly, and fearfully, I began to accept both my disease and my mortality.
It's not easy – it's especially not easy when we all believe we are in the fullness of life – I really had just begun to feel like I was hitting my stride, getting it together. And then I lost my hair – in all that's come thus far, it remains the hardest part. Accepting my body was never an easy thing...to accept it now, when it threaten to fail me, when I see the symbol of this disease in my every reflection – in the mirror, in the car windows. This, too is not easy. I try to remind myself that we are each created in God's image, but God is a man with a long white beard, and lots and lots of hair!
And yet we ARE created in God's imagine. Perhaps we don't look like God, and yet in God's infinite wisdom, we are granted the power to create – to create life, to create goodness, to create friendships, to create love.
That was a turning point for me. I came to realize that God didn't fail me, that God didn't give me cancer, that God doesn't want me to die. I believe, though, that God wants us to appreciate what we have...to love one another, and to love ourselves; to know the sweetness of a kiss, and a ripe cherry; to know the security of good insurance, and of a lover's arms.
My life is richer for having walked this path. I know my blessings. I know that others love me, and that my life has meaning for them – just as they do for me. And I've learned to treasure my tears. Some days the fears creep in...the fear of test results, of surgery and pain, of more chemo...and of forgetting the lessons. Did I treasure today? Were my choices life- affirming? Did I do enough to care for myself? Could I have been more helpful to another? We're not perfect...if I have learned any one thing, it is that we can be mindful, and that will allow us to be whole.
Praised are You, Source of healing, who ahs helped and guided me with goodness.
Praised are You, my God, who has graciously brought me healing and healers.
Our foremothers were the bearers of our folk traditions...they wrote prayers and supplications for times in women's life where liturgy did not exist. In honor of this tradition, we invoke their power.
This is the scarf that has seen Lori through her treatment. It has become a symbol of both her illness and her healing. Our foremothers believed that this could be a vessel for blessings, and so we will each have an opportunity to offer Lori a blessing. She will then take this to the hospital for her surgery.
"With the help of Almighty God, who heals all who are sick, may God remove all pain and evil forces from you. When you encounter an evil glance, whether from a man or a woman, whether young or old, may neither your body, nor your lungs, nor your heart, nor you life be threatened."
Pass scarf to each woman, who can add a blessing if she chooses.
A HEALING MEDITATION
Please help Lori maintain a positive outlook, even as she deals with difficult days and stormy nights. Please protect her from anger, fear and any tendencies toward self pity.
Please keep her optimistic and strong as she faces the unknowns ahead. Kindly lead her on the healing and accepting path, so that she can feel and appreciate the beauty and love in the world, and the strength within herself.
Thank you, God, for watching over her and for affording her, and us, the power and peace of the quiet, soulful moment.
The poet Rilke said "Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something that needs our love." We need to accept and love where we feel broken. It is through the broken places that things can grow. It's in the cracks in the pavement that grass pushes its way out to receive the sun's nourishment and surprise us with green vibrancy in the middle of concrete. It's through the broken places in our own bodies, our own hearts, that the divine spark within can radiate light into the world. Let those cracks in your body be the openings through which love shines forth for yourself. When we have love for ourselves, we also are able to love others.
How do you find God in the face of challenges? How do you find God when you're angry, betrayed, forgotten? Like in the Wizard of Oz, I had to look no further than my own heart. I think many of us have a tendency to look for God in the big places, sensing that God is vast and strong. But God is also small – and for me I have found God in the small moments of my life, which means God is with me always. God exists, for me, in the seemingly insignificant moments of people coming together – saying a mi shebeirach, offering a meal, or a ride, or company for yet another exam. God is in the rain drops and the sunshine, in flowers and in friendships.
I have been so deeply blessed by your being, and the randomness of your paths having crossed with mine in this vast universe. You have each given me precious gifts from your heart, and I want to take one moment to acknowledge these blessings:
Andrea – You have such optimism! You have never failed to lift my spirits. Even when we don't speak, I can't help but know what you would say to me if you found me wallowing! Thank you for all of the support and love you have offered me.
Andrea – Integrity and truth. You have a special way of insisting that we look deeper into ourselves, that we explore wholly what we are about, what we are made of. You have always been there to listen, and to support me through some of the very hardest moments. Thank you for offering to care for me, even when you were far to young to know what you were committing to!
Wendy – You have given so much of yourself. Your time, your energy...you have been there every time I've asked...and often before I needed to. You have joined me in facing some of the most difficult news. Thank you for being there to keep me company when you knew I was afraid to be alone.
Marsha – You are so steady; you seem to take everything in stride. Your kindness, your support, your understanding – thank you for being a rock that I could always lean on.
Rhoda – Your wisdom is so special to me – you have faced life head-on, and learned it's lessons. And you are so willing and able to share. Thank you for being there – and for insisting that I be real, and for your acceptance of whatever it is my heart and soul.
John and Zachary – You will never know how amazing my guys are. If anyone has suffered in my illness, it has been them. And yet they have been, in many moments, my very reason for carrying on. Not only are they the reason I have to heal, but they are the reason I need to heal. They have carried a load neither of them deserved
The Mi She-beirakh Prayer (by Debbie Friedman) asks God to grant us a full healing –
A healing of spirit and a healing of body.
Mi she-beirakh avoteinu,
m'kor ha-brakhah l'imoteinu
May the source of strength Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say: Amen.
Mi she-beirakh imoteinu,
m'kor ha-brakhah l'avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say: Amen.