#BlogElul 16: Wonder

One of the reasons I am entering an education-centric field is because I that working with kids exposes you to the wonder with which they see the world.  Everything is fresh and new to them, each new discovery about how our world works (big, small, completely unimportant – it can all fascinate a child) is a source of amazement and wonder.  Kids are not cynical, and everything is up for grabs, up for questioning.   While teaching them can be exhausting and exasperating at times, being around this enthusiasm can be contagious.  It forces you to look at the world through new eyes, to rediscover your own sense of wonder and curiosity, which is a fantastic feeling.

One of the things that never ceases to make me wonder is how intricately our bodies work.  When you get down to learning biology and anatomy, and you learn just how many things have to go right, coordinate, fire, sync, release, contract to make even the smallest movements, it’s impossible not to be filled with wonder.  It’s hardly surprising then, that one of my favorite prayers within the Jewish morning liturgy (shacharit) is the Nisim B’Chol Yom – for daily miracles. The italicized notes in my Mishkan T’Filah journal have summaries of the things we give thanks to God for each morning. In order, they are:

  • Awakening
  • Vision
  • The ability to stretch
  • For rising to the new day
  • For firm earth to stand upon
  • For the gift of motion
  • For clothing the body
  • For renewed enthusiasm for life
  • For reawakening
  • For being in the image of God
  • For being a free person
  • For being a Jew
  • For purpose
  • For harmony

I am not a morning person, and I am a long way from being able to pray coherently or meaningfully upon waking, but I try and keep these general sentiments in mind.   It’s not always easy for me, particularly as someone who has struggled deeply with feeling betrayed by their body due to chronic health conditions, but when I find myself feeling upset or frustrated with my body and it not doing what I’d like it to be doing, it helps a great deal to have the words of this prayer flit through my mind.  When I’m focused on appreciation and wonder for life, and for my body, my perspective shifts and I feel more able to move on psychologically and spiritually, which of course helps physically.  Our lives and our bodies are wondrous things, it’s just hard to keep sight of that sometimes.

#BlogElul 15: Health

When I compare myself to where I was last summer in terms of my health, the changes could not be more stark.  Last summer, my chronic eczema was in the midst of a raging flare, brought on by a terrible reaction to medication.  Bleeding, infected, cracked skin covered my body, making it painful to move, difficult to sleep, hard to think about anything other than ignoring the tremendous amount of pain I was in on a daily basis.  For months on end I forgot what it was like to sleep through the night, grabbing rest whenever my exhausted body gave up its intense desire to scratch long enough to let me get a few hours here and there.  I also struggled with the knowledge that my condition was so very public – literally written all over my face for people to see.  I’ve heard often how hard it is to grapple with “hidden” conditions, the ones nobody can see, like pain, but let me tell you, it’s equally worse when you fool yourself (as a matter of necessity) that people aren’t noticing the fact that your skin is a bleeding, peeling, horrific mess, only to get a look or a comment that lets you know they notice, and how.

This was the second time my skin has gotten so bad, but I am resolved that it will be the last time.  I’m not always good about taking care of myself, but I’ve learned I really do need to be vigilant about asking for help and taking the steps I need to in order to keep myself in a good place.  It’s not always easy, but I find that the concept of pikuach nefesh, the Jewish concept of preservation of life (such a strong commandment that if someone’s life is in danger, it overrides the restrictions of Shabbat or any other prohibitions that may usually be in effect) to be a guiding principle.  My eczema was never life threatening, thank goodness, but it easily could have been.  In an age of MRSA infections, it is nothing short of a miracle that none of the patches on my face got infected with MRSA, or that the orbital cellulitis I picked up served merely as a good kick in the behind to get my health in order instead of landing me in the hospital or worse.  Preserving my health is important.  Taking good care of the body I have been given by God is important.

As I take stock of what I want to improve about myself for the next year, my health is definitely on the list.  I’m in a good place now, but some challenges remain.  But this year will be different.  I will be better about seeking appropriate help when I need it.  I will be better about taking my medication, about getting to a doctor before things get terrible, and will never, never, if I can help it, let myself get back to where I was last year.  I am healthy now, and I intend to stay that way.