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    A Day of Atonement, taken to heart

    By Orit Ramler Szulik

    I had already ironed my suit, the early dinner menu planned, my “Talit” ready. It was last
    year, at 3:00am on the day we wake up to get ready for Yom Kippur. My Day of Atonement started with an unexpected sharp, loud cry assuring the skies were open to hear my pain and plea for relief. My whole world suddenly collapsed, my body certainly did, and the pain was worst than any pain I could ever imagine. To make a long story short, and after days of what felt like torture, I found out that I had two severely herniated disks in my upper back, and that surgery was needed. I wondered, “Can this really be happening to me? who will take care of my family? how will the world keep
    going with me in bed? “ – The answers to these questions were not clear, but eventually I learned a lesson. A year later, I didn’t just survive but I am definitely in a better place.

    We were at the door steps of Yom Kippur, a time for introspection and there I was capable of doing just that, metaphorically and literally! Finding a meaning to whatever happens to us is a good practice, and for me that is what helped me make this experience a profound one, not just a painful one. It was a long month before I had my Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgery, followed by a few months of recovery. I was forced to learn much about myself and others. And here it goes:

    We are vulnerable.  I never took the time to think about it before. Being confronted with my own vulnerability was very powerful; scary at first, and yet empowering and somehow beautiful when accepted. Vulnerability made me connect with what the core of life is all about and appreciate every day with a new lens, one that doesn’t take anything for granted and yet appreciates every feeling and experience with passion. Vulnerability made me become thankful -for the good and the challenging, but mainly for being able to deal with both.

    Compassion is a practice.  I always thought I was compassionate, and somehow I was, but now I know better. There are friends and family who “carried me through” my ordeal, they taught me what compassion in action is. The friend who didn’t just guess but instead asked me “what do you need?”; the one who massaged my  numbed fingers for hours; the one who asked me “what do you want for lunch today?”- almost every day; the one who sat next to me while I was sleeping so my husband
    could do some work; the one who organized a four-week schedule of visits and meals for my family; the ones who called every day; the one who baked chalah every Friday; the many who would sent flowers from around the world and from around the corner; the ones who came to visit; the ones who made sure I had everything I needed to be comfortable; the one who got me into all those TV series and kept me entertained; the many who cooked home made meals. I am eternally grateful for having them in my life, but also because they taught me all I need to learn about compassion, not because of
    what they did, but because of how they did it.

    There is a time for everything. “Can I stop everything in my life? what will happen with my clients? what will I miss for my kids? what if I can’t take my parents to an important doctor’s appointment? how can I miss being there with my husband during the High Holidays?”… bottom line, “will the world continue functioning without me?”. I had no choice but to let go and eventually find out by myself. As you can imagine, the world kept going pretty smoothly. My clients are still there, my kids did well and actually gave me lots of care and love, my parents didn’t need a doctor but helped me heal, my husband was surrounded by the love of our community, and things didn’t stop or collapse because my body did. There is a time for healing and there is a time for all the rest. We have the permission to do what’s truly important for us some times.

    Scars happen.  At first I didn’t even care about it, I just wanted to make sure I will be able to walk. Then I started to wonder, and my son told me “it is cool, it will be another story to tell”, and I liked the idea. After the surgery, my scar looked as if someone tried to decapitate me, but it was ok. Then, I hated it because it reminded me about the pain. Later I forgot about it, and everyone would tell me “I can’t even notice your scar”, and I would think “yes you can, but you’re sweet”. A few weeks ago, I walked into a store and a guy tells me, “you belong to my club”, then he showed me his own scar…I loved it! No more words were needed, we were brothers. We shared everything about our common
    experiences, and spoke the same language. Since then, my scar is officially noticeable, a story to share, and a reminder of vulnerability, compassion, friendships, love, belonging, introspection and strength.

    We have no control. I knew it, but I didn’t, and some times I still forget. The bottom line is that I fear every situation where I’m not in control or command – such as roller coasters or airplanes. Going into the surgery, I had no control (thanks G-d) over what the surgeon would do, and the outcome of his work. The only thing I could control at times, was my fear and thoughts. And yes, I chose my surgeon. So, although we never have full control over absolutely anything in life, we can do our due diligence to get as close as we can to some peace of mind that we did our best. Peace of mind is my new goal, as opposed to control.

    My husband is the best! I knew it the day I met him and I know it 27 years later. The way he was there for me, carrying me through, was a way that goes beyond anything I could imagine or describe. He gave me dignity and made me feel well with whatever was happening all along the way. What my husband taught me about him, myself and our relationship is a gift that can help rebuild any collapsed human being.

    And the lessons go on and on. This Rosh Hashanah, I’m thankful to so many and for so much. Now the Day of Atonement is almost back, and I’m thanking G-d for the journey he took me through. This Yom Kippur I will stand tall, look deep inside, and I will know I have been strengthened by all the lessons I learned from the past year.I have my suit ironed, the early dinner menu planned, my “Tallit” ready, again. I also have a renewed wisdom to accept that I’m vulnerable and that’s part of being alive, that true compassion carry people through the most challenging times, that I can take time
    off and the world will be just fine, that control is an illusion and peace of mind is the way, that scars have their beauty, that community and friendships are a blessing, and that my family is a gem.

    I wish all of you a meaningful Holiday, where you can look deep inside, find the meaning to what’s important, think of the lessons learned and be open to keep learning, and be ready for new beginnings.

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