Perspectives From a Hospital Bed

I slowed down a bit this week.  An eye infection got the best of me and I am writing this from my hospital bed on the eighth floor of Inova Hospital.  My eye is improving quite a bit.  I don’t have to have surgery as was originally rumored, but will be on meds and follow-up with an opthomologist when I return home.  My first thoughts as this saga unfolded were about writing, photography, school.  But being in a hospital with nothing much to do, and eyesight that makes writing, reading or TV viewing difficult, I had a lot of time to think.  Listening to the news was a shock to my system.  We don’t have TV so the only news I get is an ocational radio broadcast or quick snapshots on the internet as I wend my way to my on-line classroom.  Having large blocks of time to listen, and to see the pictures of devastation from Japan, albeit blurry, has been sobering to say the least.  I sit here with my problems and aches, but how can I complain?  My challenge is addressed with some antibiotics and then I go home.  How will the Japanese address their problem?  A massive earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded; a devastating tsunami destroying everything in its path and taking thousands of lives as it washed over the land; nuclear disaster as two nuclear power plants are distressed to the point of melt down, if not complete, at least partial.  I wish antibiotics would erase their challenges, but it won’t.  What do we do in the face of such a monumental catastrophe.

Sadly, there was another catastrophe this weekend that weighs on my heart, and few people outside the Jewish community know about it.  Friday night, or was it Saturday, two Palestinian murderers stole into the home of the Fogel family living in Israel, and brutally murdered five members of that family while most of them slept: both parents, an infant daughter, a 3-year-old son and an 11-year-old son.  Two of the three surviving children slept while this was going on, being spared only because they were not in their bedrooms and were simply overlooked by the murderers.  The oldest, a 12-year-old daughter was out at a youth event, and was the one to discover the gruesome scene upon her return home shortly after midnight.  To be honest with you, I want the monsters who did this found, and tortured for what they did.  What do we do in the face of such tragedy?  To be Jewish in this world is to be hated by many. . .still.  Needing antibiotics for an infected eye is not a problem.  Would that I could share antibiotics with the surviving children and bring their family back to life. Ridiculous thought, yes.  But I would if I could.

Reflecting on these events, I was humbled and my complaining turned to gratitude as I sit in this hospital bed and get poked, prodded, questioned and all-around bothered in this healing process.  Gratitude because there is healing, even as I feel enormous grief for the losses that defy explanation or understanding.

I have googled and searched for responses to both events, struggling to read, listening to what I can.  It occurs to me that we do have choices in how we respond to these heartrending events of recent days.  I share with you some of my thoughts mingled with the thoughts of others that I have come across as I sit in this hospital bed.  I don’t know their names, the ones who put some of this together, but I do know that good portions of what follows are from our Jewish prayers–Tehillim/Psalms–our ageless response to evil.

Grieve in its proper time.  The dead are worthy of our grief, our send-off, acknowledgement for their having lived and loved. They were part of our physical world, and now a permanent part of our spiritual lives.

Live in joy, as our ancestors have done for millenia.  Despite the evil, there is good.  Do not forsake the good to chase after evil.

Do one more mitzvah, one more good thing: Teshuva/Repentance, Tzedakah/Charity, Tefillah/Prayers, Torah/learn righteous living.

Return again to the path of your soul.  The derek/path to the heart of who we were meant to be.

Remember that your prayers rock the heavens and the earth. Pray from your heart for your nation, your people, all that is good and holy.

Now is the time for love beyond logic.

Pay attention to where you put your thoughts.  We become what we focus on! This is a law of nature.  Don’t spend too much time watching videos about the enemy.

The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  Remember that.

From Tehillim/Psalms. . .

Be not disturbed by evildoers. . . like grass will they soon be cut down, and like green vegetables will they wither.

Trust the Eternal and do good. . .

Dwell in the land and nourish yourself with faith. Only a little longer, and there will be no wicked one. . .

Their sword will enter their own heart and their bow will be broken. . .

Let them be ashamed and disgraced, those who seek my soul, may they draw back and be humiliated, those who devise my harm.  Let them be like chaff before the wind, and with the angel from the Eternal drawing them away. . .

Be gracious to me, G-d, I am calling out to You by the day.  Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You , G-d, do I lift up my soul.

The following words are a constant reminder to us of who we are and whose we are.  We say these at least three times a day, and for me it has become a holy mantra when I doubt, fear, question or wonder about the events of life:

Shemah Yisrael/Listen Israel: Hashem Elokaynu/The Lord is G-d, Hashem Ekhad/G-d is one.

To those who inspired me with their words and thoughts, thank you.  As I stated, many words here are from those other sources, but I don’t know your names.  I took the liberty of mingling your words with mine as I reflected on the many thoughts of anger, despair, grief, love, repair, hope, and trust.  If you recognize your words or thoughts, please feel free to comment.  If you wish to share your thoughts and reflections here, please do.  Above all, seek the good.

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Standing in the Need of Prayer

Even though I am Jewish, and orthodox at that, this spiritual dances through my mind from time to time.  After all, who among us does not need prayer?  These past months have been quite a challenge for me as I find myself  “recareering.“  The changes life brings can be and have been enormous.  Yet, despite the numerous changes, everything stays the same.  Like the words of this beloved song, written who knows when, “it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

What is prayer? There are a plethora of ways to answer this question.  For far too many in our western culture, I fear that prayer is little more than a wish list–a Santa Claus list–of all the things we want.  To others, prayer is nothing more than vacuous rhetoric spoken to an unknown entity in the nether world; little meaning, little benefit.  When things don’t go our way, we throw up our hands, declare “what’s the use,“ and dismiss prayer as an exercise in futility.  To many, though, there is the realization that we are not “top dog”; there is a higher power and purpose to this universe far beyond our comprehension.  Rather than seeking “my way,” good or bad, I think that ultimately prayer is our effort, feeble at times but also quite noble when nobility is required, to connect and communicate with this higher power.

Why should I pray? At its most intimate level, prayer is about relationship, more precisely, our relationship with the Almighty, with G-d.  As a mother, I liken that relationship to a parent wanting to hear from her children.  I don’t need my children to “do” anything to curry favor with me.  I don’t expect gifts.  I don’t require stellar achievements.  I just want time with my kids, to embrace them and shower each with love.  I want to know how their days are going.  I long for the sound of their voices with their individual and unique drawls and lilts.  The relationship with my children is strengthened when we communicate on a regular basis.  This may sound simplistic, but think about it.  Too often we know that Mom or Dad are “there,” but in our busy lives we don’t often enough chat with them.  In a pinch we contact them.  When we need cheering up, or a financial loan, or even a babysitter for their “favorite” grandchildren, we are quick to call. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to our parents when we are in need of parental guidance and support.  In fact they would be saddened if they knew there was a need they could help us with and we did not call.  But to Mom and Dad, they just want to hear us, hold us, have a cup of coffee with us while sitting around the kitchen table.  They want to hear about our days, the mundane as well as the spectacular.  Even sitting together in silence is enough, and possibly a more a profound act than when we are making noise.

When I pray, I am spending time with G-d in conversation.  As much as I stand in the need of prayer, as much as I feel the need to reach out to G-d, G-d longs to hear my voice, to embrace me regardless of whether there is a need or desire or not.  I pray the “template” prayers (necessary to guide us through all areas of praying, and for praying beyond our personal needs, to keep us from deteriorating into exclusive “wish list” praying) and I pray the more spontaneous prayers (triggered throughout the day’s activities, events and news.) Prayer is a time to pour my heart out to the ultimate Lover of our souls.  It is a time to stand in the presence of our Creator.  Prayer is when I offer up thanks directly to the Giver of all goodness, and beseech our Healer for health and life in times of distress.

What do I pray? That is a question I’ve heard many times from many people.  My response is usually to urge the questioner to start developing a prayer life by praying the Psalms.  Why Psalms?  Because Psalms are prayers.  Ancient prayers written in biblical times, many set to music, the Psalms express in words the emotions we are oftentimes unable to articulate.  They are songs sung to our Creator throughout the ages expressing praise and thanksgiving, fears and doubts, remorse and pleas for forgiveness, petitions for protection from the evils which beset us.  As I hinted earlier, regardless of the vast changes in our physical world, things don’t change much when it comes to our spiritual need for prayer.  If you don’t know what to pray, turn to the Psalms.  And from there, the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings are filled with prayers, guidelines on how and to Whom to pray.

I have a friend who once told me that it was too late for praying.  I say it is never too late.  If we do not get what we want,  then maybe we wanted the wrong things.  Or maybe there is a higher purpose and pattern at play, one we cannot fathom from our vantage point.  Or possibly the evil in the present will be revealed as the good we could not see.  The stronger my relationship with Hashem, the more able I am to meet the challenges of each day.  The more I pray, the more Hashem’s holiness is infused into each day.

What does prayer mean to you?  How has prayer affected your life?

Emunah continued

While contemplating my next blog, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was more to write about my earlier post on emunah/faith.  The examples I used were of high-profile people, and all of them were world-class athletes.  As àpropos as those examples are, especially considering the Olympics that are in full swing, it is important to me to highlight a different kind of success story.  Today it is too easy to define and confine success to the spectacular, the wealthy, the athlete.  In reality,  few of us will achieve such notoriety.  For most of us, having emunah does not imply that we will experience praise and medals or worldly honors for having “kept the faith.”  While that does happen, and while I do not minimize the success of those who do achieve such recognition, and while those stories do inspire, the most profound expressions of emunah are those stories which touch us personally. 

Years ago, I had the privilege of working exclusively with people who were chronically and/or terminally ill.  It was my job to offer counsel, support, encouragement and guidance as they each navigated their way through the emotional and physical challenges of  staying alive, or preparing to die. Each person in my care was a blessing.  Each was my teacher.  I was both honored and humbled to walk with them at that time in their respective journeys.   I want to share with you a couple of stories about what my “clients” taught me about emunah. (Names were changed to protect their identities.)

Barb was a petite, cute “girlish” woman about 25 years old when I met her.  She had grown up in an extremely dysfunctional home and was placed in foster care many times in many places.  Physically and sexually abused by her own family members and while in foster care, Barb turned to drugs to numb her feelings.  It didn’t take long for Barb to begin the revolving door of entering jail, then rehab, released to the street, only to be sent back to jail again.  Finally, during her last stint in jail,  Barb collapsed while being taken from her holding cell to the courthouse for arraignment.  So instead of ending up in yet another courtroom, Barb was rushed to the hospital.  Tests were run, and soon thereafter Barb was informed that she had full-blown AIDS.  Devastated by the news, Barb, even though in a drug induced stupor, vowed to spend the rest of her days, whether few or many, living a better life than she had known to this point.  She still had jail time to do, but she would use that time to turn her life around.

I met Barb at this juncture in her life.  Barb knew that she would die of AIDS related problems, she just didn’t know how long that would be.  The first thing Barb did was join a Narcotics Anonymous 12 step program.  She then began working with me to begin establishing functional personal boundaries.  Affirmations, prayer, and renewed spiritual connection with G-d soon followed.  She tired easily, typical of people with AIDS because of the harsh cocktail of drugs they have to take many times a day, every day for the rest of their lives.  But Barb never quit.  This was her last chance at life and she knew it.  Barb made such good use of her prison time that she was paroled after only one year. 

Barb continued to see me for counseling after her release from jail. Once out of prison, Barb secured a job at a local hardware store.  She began as a stock girl, going in late at night and stocking shelves, doing inventory, etc.  Even though she was in a weakened state and tired easily, she never missed a day of work.  Barb also remained active in a 12 step program once out of prison.  She became a leader, and an inspirational speaker in her group.  She was oftentimes asked to speak to others in nearby communities, and was always encouraging young women who found themselves addicted and in trouble.

Barb eventually met and married a man who loved her and treated her with the respect and devotion she had never experienced before.  One thing Barb told me over and over, something I will never ever forget as long as I live,  “Annie, finding out that I am infected with HIV and that I had full blown AIDS is the best thing that ever happened to me.”  Many of us find that hard to believe.  It is difficult to understand how someone can be thankful for a disease that will end their life sooner than later.  When Barb would say those words, she would choke up a little, and she would talk about how different her life had become because of having been infected.  Her’s was not an easy journey.  In fact, by most standards Barb had lived a hellish nightmare.  However, with the diagnosis, Barb was finally able to turn her life around.  Barb knew that to have continued in her earlier life style, she would have been dead long before I met her, probably due to an overdose in some alley, or on some dirty crack house floor.  Now, however, she had a responsible job, a loving husband, and most of all, purpose for living and helping others.  Barb was one of the most grateful people I have ever met in my life.  No matter how tired, or how much pain, or whatever the setback, Barb thanked G-d for the disease, thanked me for my presence, thanked the prison personnel for their jobs which allowed her to survive….on and on and on.  Always, “thank you.” 

I lost track of Barb after I married and moved to another state.  I don’t know if she is still living, or what she is doing.  But I thank her for what she taught me about emunah, gratitude, and the privilege of living.

Another person I worked with, a man in his thirties, Ted, taught me a lesson of hope.  Ted was a loner, estranged from his tight-knit very religious family.  Ted, too, had been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS long before I met him.  Ted was fun to be around.  He had held some of the most interesting jobs imaginable, from wildlife photographer, to circus clown, to male fashion model.  However, those jobs kept Ted moving from place to place, community to community.  Ted was always restless, always seeking adventure, trying new careers.  But, without the nurture and security of his family, Ted fell in with other “misfits” and began participating in self-destructive behavior: drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, misdemeanor crimes.  During some of our sessions, Ted would bring a photo album filled with stunning photographs depicting his various endeavors.  But now Ted was sick, alone, and most of all, homesick.  His family had disowned him years before because of his behavior which had caused them enormous grief.  Now Ted had come home to die, but “home” had shut its door to him. 

Many of Ted’s and my sessions took place in a nearby park, or at the zoo.  He craved being out doors and being in the sunlight, so that is where we met.  He talked of wanting to see his parents and siblings one more time before he died.  He, too, renewed his connection with G-d during these, his last days.  Privately, I began to pray that there would be some way for Ted to reconnect with his family, that they would forgive each other.  I met with Ted for about four months, and prayed for him most of that time, too. 

One day Ted called to tell me there had to be a change of venue for our session together.  He gave me an address and asked me to meet him there, he was too weak to come outside.  I agreed, but with the stipulation that if anything appeared inappropriate I would leave immediately.  Having worked in this field with numerous drug addicts, I learned early on that no matter how much I wanted to help a client, I had to be steadfast about my boundaries.  I arrived at the address he had given me.  The house was modest, but well-kept.  I walked to the door, past children’s toys and tricycles, rang the door bell, and was greeted by a young pre-teen girl.  She was grinning from ear to ear and immediately invited me in.  What I quickly discovered was that this was Ted’s “home,” his sister’s home to be precise.  Crowded into the living room were sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, parents and a grandparent.  There was laughter and tears.  Ted wanted me to meet him there so that I could meet the wonderful family he loved so much, yet had been estranged from for too long.  What a blessing.  I tear up even now as I think of Ted and this encounter. 

Soon thereafter, Ted entered the hospital for the last time.  Upon admission, he was placed in the hospice unit.  I talked with Ted by phone a few times, but once he reunited with his family, it became apparent that he no longer needed my services.  And I was fine with that.  Although I never found out what triggered the family reunion, I was joyful for Ted.  I made an appointment to meet with Ted one last time, to bring closure to our relationship.  I arrived at the hospital, and as I walked down the hallway of his unit I saw people clustered near his doorway.  At first I couldn’t tell who they were because they had their backs to me, but as I approached I realized that this was Ted’s family.  When I reached them, they each tearfully embraced me and thanked me for befriending Ted during his final days, and informed me that  Ted had died less than an hour before I arrived.  Despite his pain, the last weeks of Ted’s life were filled with joy.  Ted was able to come home and be with his family.  They were able to embrace and love their wayward son, brother, and uncle.  Ted never gave up hope, and had even developed a prayer life during his estrangement.  I did nothing but listen and pray…and be witness to the power of tefillah/prayer, emunah/faith and tikvah/hope.

Gratitude, hope, and prayer are all integral to developing emunah.  When I witness one who can express deep gratitude for a deadly disease, or another who never gives up hope when in a seemingly hopeless situation, I realize the futility of despair over lost dreams and missed opportunities in my life.  When I read stories of the noble heights people reach when they have failed in their endeavors and are thus forced down a different road in life, I am compelled to embrace my failures as doorways leading to a more authentic and fulfilled life.  My deepest prayer is that we are each able to inspire and be inspired, hope and give hope, pray and grow in emunah

My parting questions:  Who has inspired you?  What lessons have you learned from their examples?  How has your life changed as a result of someone else’s encouragement?  What is your deepest struggle, and what do you need in order to move past it?  What is your prayer?

Morning Rituals

For as long as I can remember, Mom would get up long before daybreak to begin her day.  She would brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup for herself and one for Dad, add two teaspoons of sugar per cup, then return to bed, coffee in hand, where she and Dad would sit quietly talking for a bit.  We kids were not allowed to bombard them with our demands until they had some time alone together.  This was their daily ritual, one that never changed in all the years I was growing up (except when camping, then the roles reversed.)  It is a most wonderful and intimate way to start one’s day, I imagine.  I remember being on the other side of their bedroom door and hearing their muffled voices.  We never knew what they were talking about, and at times wondered how two people could always have something to discuss every morning, day in and day out. But, they did, and to us this seemed perfectly normal.   I was in high school before learning that this morning ritual was an uncommon habit not practiced in the homes of my friends.     

 Another morning ritual–winter morning ritual– from when I was very young also brings fond memories…now.  Although we lived in Louisiana, winter could (once or twice a year at least) produce a “cold snap,“ with temperatures plummeting into the 20’s.  Central air was a rarity found in few homes at that time.  Rather, we had open flame gas heaters in every room.  That way we could heat the rooms in use, and close off the rooms not in use. At night we slept with no heat in our bedrooms because Mom was too fearful of blankets accidentally being tossed onto the flame. That meant that when bedtime came, we would have to crawl in between marble cold sheets. To say that this was no fun is an understatement, but once I crawled in and made a little cocoon for myself, the chill would quickly dissipate.  It helped that the bed was piled high with Momma Futch’s (Grandma) or Mom’s home-made quilts.  The next morning while it was still dark, after Mom put the coffee on to brew, she would come around to each of our rooms to light the heaters while we were still in bed.  When we arose, the room would still be chilly but not frigid.  Just as bad as crawling into bed at night between cold sheets is stepping into icy clothes in the morning when dressing for school.  So, time permitting, we would warm our clothes before putting them on by standing in front of the heater and literally holding our garments over the flame.   My three brothers and I would each claim a heater for this purpose while Mom was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the house down!  Speaking of breakfast, we had a variety of choices the entire time I lived at home: Quaker Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Ralston. Add to that  a piece of toast (no one makes toast as good as Mom does.  Ask my kids.  She takes a piece of bread, dots it with dollops of butter, sticks it in the oven to toast, then slathers it with plenty of homemade jelly) and a glass of powder milk and we were set for the day! There you have it; our winter morning ritual on cold Louisiana mornings!     

my piano
My Piano

 

Our move to Kentucky when I was fifteen years old changed some of our rituals.  No longer did we have the open flame heaters.  Now we had central air. Mom was no longer the “alarm clock” who woke us up and started us on our days.  I missed that.  But we still had an alarm clock to get the family up and going in the mornings.  Me.  I played piano, but as I began high school, finding practice time proved to be quite challenging.  Mom’s solution?  Practice first thing in the morning before going to school.  So, each morning around 5:00 (or 5:30 if I overslept) I would get up and practice the piano.  Since I had to do this, it wasn’t like this was my choice, I would begin by practicing a few scales–in fortissimo!  I am told (by my brothers, and a couple of cousins who lived with us for a few months) that I played so loudly the walls would shake.  A bit of an exaggeration, I assure you, but practice I must, and if that was the only time available, then the family had to endure this with me.  The truth of the matter is that playing the piano was seriously important to me. Throughout high school I found ways and places to practice (the school‘s chorus room during study hall, the church piano when no one else was around, etc.)  At one time in my life I was pretty good, good enough to win a small scholarship to begin college.  After a couple of years, however, I forfeited my scholarship by changing my academic major.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with music.  Today my piano is a living room ornament, a dust collector, but from time to time I still enjoy sitting down and plunking out a tune.  Much to Richard’s relief, I gave up those early morning practice sessions long before I met him.    

negel vasser
negel vasser

 

My rituals have changed over the years to reflect the changes I have gone through.   When I chose to become Jewish, I took on the rituals of the Jewish people.  Even so, some things don’t change.  Much like Mom, I, too, am an early riser.  Once awake, I find it impossible to stay in bed (most of the time…there are exceptions.)  When the last of the kids left home, my mornings became my quiet time.  For the past decade, my ritual has included more “thank you” time, more prayer time.  Before my feet touch the ground, I thank G-d for having kept me through the night, and giving me another day.  I then wash my hands, pouring cold water over one hand then the other a few times.  This is followed with blessings, prayer and thanksgiving.  Only then do I make myself a cup of coffee as I ease into my day.  Unlike me, my husband the scientist wakes up immediately ready to discuss some deep complicated physics problem, or a burning world issue, and he wants my opinion, even if it’s four o’clock  in the morning.  Fortunately, however, over the years he has learned that trying to engage me in anything resembling deep animated discussion before I’ve had my first cup of coffee is a dangerous proposition.    

Morning rituals create fond memories and foster feelings of security.  But they do more than that.  Rituals are the glue binding families together, and oftentimes bring us back together for various events and holidays throughout our lives. How often do you and your family fondly reminisce about some ritualized activity when gathered together for some event?  Rituals identify who we are and Whose we are.  Rituals mark momentous events reminding us that we are part of a bigger world. They help instill in us our value as individuals within a community, be it religious, familial, cultural or ethnic.  Our days are filled with rituals from arising in the morning to reclining at night.  They are important, for the seemingly small, insignificant rituals become the fiber of our lives.  For me, not only do these rituals provide mooring for my soul, but in addition to everything else I have written here, they create that connection which strengthen my relationship with G-d, and provide markers along the path to holy living.    

Memories of morning rituals from my youth are strong and vivid indicating their importance to me.  Morning rituals continue to be vital  to my spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.     

What are some memories of your morning rituals? What feelings do you have about those rituals (then and now)?  How have your rituals changed over the years?

Thanks Giving 2009

Unemployment. Uncertainty. Unknowns. Hacks. Betrayals. Scams. Loss. Recession. Doubt. Depression. Fear. Terrorists. Thanksgiving.

What? Thanksgiving? How did that slip into this list?

Yes, Thanksgiving. In this country, the United States of America, once a year we take time to be thankful for all of our blessings. Sometimes, such as the present time, we may think there is little for which to be thankful. Just read the list again. Evil seems pervasive. Ubiquitous. How do we be thankful when we’ve lost our job? our home has gone into foreclosure? illness strikes? we are betrayed by someone we thought was our friend? Etc.

Many years ago, when my life was in enormous upheaval, there was a time when I actually believed there was nothing to be thankful for, or at least very little. I will spare you the details, just suffice it to say that that was a very bleak time in my life. During that time my enlightened youngest daughter gave me two small journals. She suggested that each night before I go to bed I write down at least five things I was thankful for on that day; just five blessings each day to record in a journal. The first days were tough. “Thank you that this day is over.” “Thank you that I don’t have to see or talk to anyone else today.” “Thank you that I don’t have to fake a smile, or sound happy on the phone, or make up things to be thankful for any more today…” However, sometime later when I went back to read some of the entries, I noticed that by the end of the first week when I recorded my five blessings for the day, a definite change was beginning to take place. “Thank you that I have a warm bed to sleep in tonight.” “Thank you that I had food to eat today.” “Thank you for the first crocuses I saw poking through the snow.” By the time I had been recording my blessings for the second week, I found that listing five blessings daily was impossible; there were too many blessings to narrow the list down to just five. In addition, I was adding prayers for others in need of recognizing their daily blessings. I could write endlessly about the blessings I encountered each day. Really. In two short weeks my attitude and sense of well being had changed dramatically. Even though my situation had not changed, I was changing inwardly which reflected outwardly, all because I simply paused each day to count my blessings. Thank you, Mary, for those small journals and your sagely advice. I filled both journals in short order and have gone on to fill other journals recounting the many blessings of my life.

A second story is not really my own, but it impacted the way I pray daily. I want to give credit to the person who told me this true story, but I honestly cannot remember the source. It seems that a rabbi was teaching a class of young children how to pray. The rabbi went around the room and asked each child what they would say to G!d if they could speak to the Almighty directly. The children were each listing all the things they would ask for, personal requests and, commendably, things for others, too. When he got to one young boy though, the child simply answered, “Todah. Todah. Todah.” Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Since hearing this story, my prayer life has changed. Today, every prayer I pray ends with three simple words: “Todah. Todah. Todah.”

The evil we encounter in this world is daunting, yes. Things happen in our lives that we must pause to grieve. Pains and fears grip us even as we seek to live exemplary lives. Exhaustion from tending to our cares blurs our vision. However, I have discovered that goodness expressed in the simple act of counting our blessings and giving thanks is far more powerful than the evil. Choosing to be thankful is in fact, a remarkable healing balm for our spiritual and emotional wounds.

Thanksgiving recognizes on one day the attitude to be exemplified every day. May we all develop the daily habit of counting our blessings and offering heartfelt thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.