I slammed my prayer book shut.
During the Selichot service, I was reciting the penitential poems and prayers leading up to Jewish high holidays. It was the time of contemplation that started a week before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Where am I? My annual report to God revealed a steep crash.
I reflected on the past year. In a fit of misery last January. I quit my “career” as an adjunct professor. The low pay, demanding workload, and lack of respect left me feeling depressed. I had feelings of worthlessness, as well as a life of impending poverty. It’s academia’s dirty little secret. Teaching is the new Wal-Mart for highly educated professionals cast out of corporate jobs. With the savings on tenured professors salaries, institutions of higher learning can invest in what’s truly important. Football stadiums. Do you know who’s educating your children in the hallowed halls of academia? It’s most probably, a beleaguered adjunct living out of her car. Yet, upon leaving, I felt a loss of identity. Sadly, I started out wanting to make a difference.
Soon after, I became ill. First severe bronchitis, and then the flu, the mega strain that’s had been floating around the country (as well as South Korea.) The dreaded Noro disease– known as the poop and puke virus. I caught it, even though hadn’t even been on a Carnival cruise. I experienced a sickness I’d never known. Migraines, stomach flu, coughing and sneezing the wracked my rib cage. Even my mind was foggy. I couldn’t walk a short block to Starbucks. No coffee and muffin for me… Most days, I lay in bed, barely able to move. And even if I could, I was highly contagious. The malaise wouldn’t leave me.
After a week, I mustered the strength to see a doctor. My internist immediately diagnosed the malady. She instructed me not to tell a soul that I had “ the Norovirus. It would cause a panic.”
“Can’t you kill it?”
“No. Only the warm weather makes it die. But that’s only three months away. March is around the corner.” She shrugged.
“But here must some drug!“ I pleaded. The prospect of leaving her office without a prescription terrified me. It would be a first. Even some sugar pills in clinical trials would have allayed my fear.
“An antibiotic would make it worse.” She grimly added, “My patients are dropping like flies. This is the death of man.”
With that cheery thought, I returned home with no antidote. For weeks, I lay in bed listening to the drone of MSNBC —the chatter of the daily Trump show wafting by… No one was allowed to visit. I was officially infectious. I was instructed not to touch people or kitchen surfaces. A yellow HAZMAT suit was in order. My friend Dave dropped a bottle of ginger ale in front of my door and then made a run for it. The night I spiked a high fever, I called him to ask if he would take my dog should I go to the hospital. Or expire. But then I texted to say I didn’t mean it…I started sobbing. I can go either up or down.Which is it? Awakening isn’t for sissies.
Praying in synagogue, I had an epiphany. The malaise went beyond a physical malady. My life didn’t feel right anymore. Like a pair of shoes that no longer fit– attractive stilettos that suddenly cause piercing pain and blisters. My passion had slipped away. I had fallen far from who I was supposed to be.
I must have some purpose I’ve been avoiding.
Soul weariness is never sudden. I refused to heed the shrieking in my gut until it was diagnosed as reflux.
Along with the congregation, I rose and chanted an ancient prayer for forgiveness. The melody was sad and full of longing, expressing the desire to repent and change. The words cried for life’s fleetingness. And the longing to break the cycle of our lives and change for the better.
O Lord, hear our voice in the morning; in the morning we set them before You with hopeful expectation. Hear our voice…
I pleaded, “If my soul had a GPS, where would I be?
You have fallen into a sinkhole. Shouldn’t you have “transitioned” out of it by now? The voice inside me taunted.
I wandered into hostile foreign terrain wearing lead army boots. It felt impossible to lift my feet out of the muck.
Who’s in command? What has set me off on this fallen path?”
The answer came from my heart. It had been ME..
Over the past year, my inner compass jabbered in Polish, or some crazy language I didn’t understand.
Divine One. Couldn’t you give me a little nudge in the right direction? Silence.
I continued standing while the rabbis changed the outfit on the Torah scrolls — from their usual taupe velvet to High Holiday white silk.
It’s always darkest before the dawn. Next week is a new year!
During this period of repentance,
Help me to forgive.
Please restore my heart.
And return my soul.
I bear grudges.
P.S. Did you receive the basket of apple and honey I sent you?