Take a Breath By Susan Kemen

Breathing.  A normal, healthy adult takes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.  Assuming the average breathing rate is 16 breaths per minute, adult humans take 23,040 breaths per day without giving it so much as a second thought.  I know I never really thought about it, until March 14 of this year.

As some of you know, I recently had a terrible battle with pneumonia that landed me in the hospital emergency room.  I remember laying in that bed thinking, “is this it? Have I celebrated my last Passover? My last Shabbat? Am I going to die never having married? I grew up Catholic. I know all about Last Rites, but I have no idea what Jewish customs are!” And I started to pray.  I couldn’t speak, and I was too tired to move my lips.  All I could do was think the words and hope that, somehow, they would reach G-d.

I asked Rabbi Joseph to add my name to the Mi Shebeirach list that week, as I was still in the hospital during Shabbat.  Once word went out that I was seriously ill, a magical thing happened. I began to see a side of this community that I had heard about, but never experienced firsthand.  

People called to see how I was doing, and if I needed anything.  The Caring Committee reached out.  Rabbi Joseph came to visit, which was exactly what I needed.  Sometimes, I need a voice of reason to tell me to slow down, or as she likes to say, “take a breath.”  I have to laugh at the irony of that statement in this particular case because literally, all I wanted to do was take a breath without pain or coughing or effort.  I wanted it to come as naturally as it used to.

Ellen came to visit on the day I was discharged, and I received one of the lovely “knitzvah” blankets made by our knitters.  Once I was home, I was scared.  I was going to have to rest, but somehow do things for myself, too.  

And here’s why I love that blanket so very much – I wrapped myself in it and set up camp on my couch.  It was as if my entire community was reaching out and hugging me.  In that moment, I wasn’t scared anymore because I knew that I wasn’t alone.  All I had to do was reach out, and somehow, things would happen.  And yet, it was the idea of being in a giant hug for as long as I needed that was truly comforting.  It isn’t just any old blanket, nor is it a collection of pieces of woven yarn.  It is a physical manifestation of the healing wishes of those who physically assembled it and the community as a whole.  That blanket, in particular, is a give of love, compassion, and caring.

I’m still not better, but I have all of you in my corner. And sitting here, on this Shabbat afternoon writing this, wrapped in my “knitzvah” blanket, I realize that I’ve just had another lesson in what it means to be part of a Jewish community.  It’s a strong and powerful bond, reminding me once again, what an absolute privilege and an honor it is to be Jewish.