Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dear Readers,

May you and your family enjoy a Sweet, Happy and Healthy New Year!

May you and yours be joyous on this "zman simchasenu!"

Alan, Kallah, Benjamin Z'L, Kimberly and Zac Busch

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please copy and paste this link to read my newly-published article in

Thank you,


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please find a story for Succos that I hope will be published by

The richness of Jewish life had somehow eluded me

in my childhood. I was left so unschooled that I could not

distinguish between Shabbos and Shavuos or differentiate a

siddur from a chumash. However, as little background as I had

had, my youth was not entirely barren of Jewish experiences.

We gathered at my Aunt Iris and Uncle Marvin’s house for our

one seder on the Eve of Passover, knew enough to eat matzoh,

read the story of our exodus in the “Haggadah shel Maxwell

House,” feasted on Rosh Ha Shanah and broke the fast of Yom

Kippur. I recall fondly how my mother “lit Hanukkah candles” by

plugging in an electric menorah. No brachos, no songs, we didn’t

know any. In other words, my childhood did not lack the threads

so much as it did the fabric of Jewish life.

Many years later, my wife, children and I moved into West

Rogers Park, an orthodox neighborhood on Chicago’s far north

side. My Jewish identity although thoroughly secular in nature,

slowly began to awaken to the “segula” of Jewish religious

tradition, but it was not until after I had attended the

Goldmeyers’ bar mitzvah of their first-born son, that I became

aware of some of what I had missed in my childhood.

While I delighted in walking to an orthodox shul for the first

time together with many of my neighbors on the Shabbat morning

of the bar mitzvah, my anxiety-together with an equal measure

of intimidation-gave rise to a classic case of the butterflies. My

feelings were borne out when the seeming mayhem of orthodox

shul dynamics swallowed me up. In short, I was clueless. Taking a

seat as far back as I could, I opened a siddur and found Hebrew

text only, much to my dismay. With both seats on either side of

me occupied, I placed it on the floor under my chair.

No sooner had I done so that the gentleman, seated to my

right, reached under my chair and retrieved the mislaid siddur.

“This is yours?” he asked, waving it gently but a bit too closely in

front of my nose.

“Well, I … uh,” I stumbled inarticulately, feeling guilty but unsure

of the charge.

“This book contains G-d’s name. We do not put it on the floor,” he

said with a gentle reproach.

“Thank you,” I whispered, grateful he had been discrete.

“No offense taken, a gentle slap on the wrist was all it was,” I

reassured myself.

Though I hadn ’t even begun in earnest to trod the path of

religious observance, I was confident I would learn the ropes in

time. For the time being, I would remain what I thought was the

quintessential Jewish outsider. However, having gotten my feet

wet in shul that Shabbos morning, I soon found myself immersed

in a sink or swim situation.

It was the early afternoon of Shabbos Chol Ha Moed Succos

when- while reading on my back porch with my feet perched atop

the railing-that I happened to look up momentarily to espy my

neighbor Rabbi Twersky walking through the alley. Donning a

double-breasted black kaftan and streimel, but appearing

troubled by the way he was fiddling with his peyos, I would

never have imagined it.

“He’s coming over here,” I muttered in disbelief.

I watched as he entered through my back gate. Nearly

falling backwards off my chair, I alighted and flew down the back

porch steps to greet him.

“Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi,” I said, extending my hand in

Shabbos courtesy but feeling somewhat annoyed with myself for

not wearing as much as a baseball cap. “Then again, better that he

should see me as I really am without any pretense of observance,”

I reasoned.

“Good Shabbos. Mr. Busch, I have a problem,” he confided in

me. “Rabbi Twersky has a problem and he’s coming to me,’” I

thought to myself, more than slightly bewildered.

“Uh … how can I help you, Rabbi?” I offered.

“Some sechach has fallen from the roof of my sukkah, but I

am forbidden to touch it on Shabbos,” he said, tilting his streimel

back from his forehead.

“Some what?” I asked.

“Sechach, an evergreen branch,” he clarified.

“Oh no problem, Rabbi. I’ll pick it up,” I said.

“No, he exclaimed. “You are a Jew. You may not touch it


“Oh wow! Okay,” slightly taken aback by his vehemence,

though flattered he had acknowledged me as a Jew.

“I’ll take care of the problem, Rabbi,” I assured him. Turning

away, I ran up the steps, paused on the first landing and saw his

countenance had brightened noticeably. He left through the same

gate secure, it seemed, in my promise. Unbeknownst to Rabbi

Twersky was that Tom, a gentile workman, was reglazing the

bathtub in my apartment.

“Uh, Tom, d’ya have a minute?”

“Sure. What’s up?” wiping away an errant bead of perspiration.

Without the halachic knowledge to fashion a suitable

explanation, I asked Tom if he wouldn’t mind lending a hand.

“No problem,” he said. “I’m glad to help out.”

Worried Rabbi Twersky would disapprove should he learn I was

employing Tom on Shabbos, I felt a sense of dread when standing

outside the entranceway to his sukkah. I took a deep breath and


The scent of an esrog permeated the tabernacle. Gourds and

dried fruit dangled overhead. Portraits of aged rabbinic sages

aside childish depictions of the Kotel enhanced the otherwise

drab blue plastic interior. The “ushpizin” bid us feel at home. Bent

over a Talmudic folio sat Rabbi Twersky whose glasses had

slipped to the tip of his nose.

“Rabbi, this is my friend Tom.”

“Boruch Ha Shem,” he exclaimed with a broad smile.

“Bruchim habayim. Uh … welcome!” shot out the translation.

“That’s the one there,” I said to Tom who, using a folding chair,

replaced the errant branch atop the latticework.

“Okay, got it,” Tom announced proudly.

“Boruch Ha Shem,” rejoiced Rabbi Twersky who at that precise

moment reminded me of his five-year old son Sholem to whom,

along with other neighborhood kids, I used to read stories on

Shabbos afternoons.

The following morning, my neighbors hastened to celebrate

Hoshana Rabba. Watching them clutch their “arba minim” on their

way to shul, I recalled: “No! You are a Jew. You may not touch it

either” and realized then I had already found my own “pri etz


Alan D. Busch
Revised 9/18/07

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dear Readers,

I post this chapter from In Memory of Ben a few hours before erev yontiff, 5768. I wish all of my family and friends a sweet, happy and healthy New Year.


Alan, Kallah, Benjamin Z'L, Kimberly and Zac Busch

“Ha gomel l’hayavim tovos …”

My mood swings pendulously as we approach the season of

the Yomim Noraim. Starting with the renewal of hope that

Rosh Ha Shanah connotes and ending with the trepidation of

Yom Kippur, I cannot but probe this time of year, the special

nature of which we devote to personal reflection, fasting and


While true we do not know the names of those who will be

inscribed and sealed in the Sefer Chaim when Yom

Kippur is over, the din of these existential matters belongs

exclusively to the Dayan Emes, whose province lies beyond

that which Rabbi Louis calls “the inquisitive grasp of man.”

However, we pray our tefilos, tzedaka and tshuva are of

sufficient merit to avert the evil decree and spare us the pain

of personal tragedy.

How should we explain “near misses” with death, when it

could have very conceivably gone the other way? Can we

explain them rationally or should we define them as miracles

and be done with it? If as miracles, they are different than

the miraculous inversions of nature found in the

Torah or the innumerable miracles we encounter daily:

sunrise, the birth of a child, night from day-all of which we

like to call the wonders of “nature”. What about blind luck, the

roll of the dice or random chaos?

Should everyone believe that The One Above governs the

world? Would it not be better were every knee to bend and

every tongue give homage? Perhaps but with this essential

caveat: faith does not guarantee against tragedy, but what it

does do is strengthen us when we are most in need of

assistance, comfort, and protection from apostasy. As

frustrating a reality as it is, bad things befall all kinds of

people. The nature of human powerlessness only begins to

make sense when we acknowledge that He alone governs the

world in ways we neither understand nor like at times.

The day at work was much like the one before: a busy

morning, phones ringing steadily, a brisk pace. I took the next


“Mr. Busch?” a woman’s voice asked. A stranger spoke. I

listened. Something about her tone, her almost official,

business-like approach, all too familiar-I began to tremble.

“No! This can’t be happening, Please God …,” I prayed. “Yes,

this is Mr. Busch,” I replied, wishing I were not.

“My name is Ann and I have just left your daughter Kimberly,”

she said calmly.

“Is she alright, is she hurt, tell me where she is,” I


“Mr. Busch, she is fine. Really! We’re about eighty miles south

of Chicago by Pontiac. Kimberly was involved in an accident,

but she is unhurt, not a scratch.”

“Kimmy, in an accident. Oy Got! Unhurt! Thank God!”

“Yes, that’s right. She’s fine. I’ve already left the scene, but I

promised her I’d call you as soon as the police arrived and felt

confident she was okay.”

“Well, wha … what happened?”

While on her way to Chicago, Ann witnessed a collision on

the interstate. Pulling over to help out however she could, she

came across my daughter Kimberly who-we later learned- had

lost control of her steering wheel when an eighteen-wheeler

she was attempting to pass forced her onto the shoulder of

the passing lane. Crossing the grassy median, Kimberly struck

a van headed in the opposite direction.

By this point in Anne’s narration, my heart was racing so

Much, my head pounding so violently, I could barely contain

myself. Even though Anne emphatically stressed and

reiterated that Kimmy was unhurt, I couldn’t prevent

flashbacks of Ben’s last day rushing into my head.

“Listen Ann, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You can’t

imagine what your good news means to me. Really and truly.”

“Oh, you’re welcome Mr. Busch. I’m just glad she’s okay.”

I hung up the telephone hurriedly and only then realized I had

forgotten to write down her name and number.

I called Kimberly’s mother. With as much calm as I was

able to feign, I cut to the end of the story.

“Jan, hi. It’s Alan. Sorry to call at work but it’s urgent,” I


“What is it?” she asked with trepidation.

Whenever I think about my kids in dire and dangerous

situations, my voice begins to falter.

“Jan, Kimmy was in an accident, but she’s fine, completely

unhurt,” I hastened to emphasize.

“Kimmy, what? An accident!? No, not Kimmy … she cried out,

her voice choked with emotion.

Listen to me, hon, “I reassured her,” calling her by an old term

of endearment.

“Kimberly is safe and unhurt,” I reassured her. “She’ll tell

ya everything later. Listen I’m leaving to get her right now.

Talk later,” I said, gathering my things, ready to run out. I

looked at the digital clock atop my old desk radio. It was

already after 3:00. With barely the time and breath to inform

my co-workers about what had happened, I raced away.

Although Anne had assured me Kimmy was okay, I called

the cell number she had given me of the state trooper who was

at the scene. Exceedingly kind and understanding of a father’s

worriment, she patiently humored me while I asked after

Kimmy’s status unabatedly.

Within an hour, having exceeded the speed limit for which,

if stopped, I had prepared an explanation, I found Kimberly

waiting for me in front of the service station that had towed

her car. Kimmy was anxious to leave immediately, but I

needed a few minutes. So before heading home, I tried the

driver’s side door. Amazingly it opened cleanly. I sat down.

Never having seen an airbag deployed, I slumped there

dumbfounded, gapping incredulously at what just hours

before had been a sporty red convertible Toyota. The front end

of the car was “accordioned” within several inches of the


“Dad, are you ready?” Kimmy asked impatiently.

“Yes Babe,” I replied, struggling to not break down in front of

my daughter. “Let’s go Sweetypie.” I had so many syrupy

names for her. We drove home mostly in silence.

Understandably, Kimmy was skittish, jumpy, every time I

applied the brake or switched lanes. Who knows how many

times she must have rerun the whole thing in her mind on our

way home together.

“Kimmy Babe?” I asked, calling her by one of my favorites. “Ya


“Yes, Dad, just beat,” she exhaustively uttered.

“Yea, I know,” I added with just the right amount “Daddy”

sympathy. I dropped her off at her mom’s house, my heart

sinking, but here she was … safe and sound.

Why was Kimberly saved? I don’t have an answer anymore

now than I did before when I asked why Ben was not

saved. It was unanswerable then as it remains now.

The following Friday, I invited Kimmy along with her boyfriend

for dinner Erev Shabbat. Zac was there too as was my

fiancé. The table, beautifully set, awaited us: its candles

aglow. It is my custom to light a ner nechuma for my son Ben

every Friday night before Shabbes begins … sort of bridging

the distance between us. We sat.

“Kimuschkele,” my voice cracking as I try to get the words out

of a short speech.

“Yes BBDO,” she responded half grinningly, half tearfully.
(BBDO=Big Bad Daddyo)

“This Shabbat is extra special,” I said, addressing everyone but looking at my daughter.

“We say ‘Hodu la Adoshem ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo’ because

of all nights, I am especially thankful tonight to have you by

my side.” Lifting the kiddush cup, a slight tremble animated

my right hand. I let a moment pass, not a peep was uttered.

Ben’s lamp seemed to flicker more brightly, illuminating the

serpentine path of a single drop of wine running down my


“Vayahe erev, vayahe voker,” I sanctified the wine.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dear Readers,

The Chicago Jewish Federation in its news magazine published this version of the opening chapter of my manuscript In Memory of Ben. Unfortunately, the editors used the wrong revision, but this is not too terribly different though the final draft is somewhat longer containing more dialogue. In any event, I am pleased that the editors saw fit to publish this tiny bit of Ben's story.

May all who come to this blog by design or chance enjoy a sweet, healthy and happy NEW YEAR!

Before I forget, the November 1, 2007 edition of Bereavement Publications Living With Loss will feature another chapter of In Memory of Ben, entitled "Every Day is Thanksgiving"

JUF News
Arts & Entertainment

In Memory of Ben

By Alan Busch

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Yom Kippur it is customary for Jews to recite Yizkor, (memorial prayers, but literally meaning "May He remember") for loved ones who have died. It is in that spirit that we offer the following piece, written by Alan Busch, a congregant of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Kesser Maariv Anshe Luknik, who continues to mourn the loss of his son, Ben. JUF News thanks Rabbi Louis Lazovsky for bringing this story to our attention.

An act of divine kindness made it possible for me to spend several minutes with my son Benjamin in what became our last time together.

Forgetting the night before to set his alarm, Ben woke up late for work, hurriedly got dressed and ran to catch the bus. As fortune would have it, he spotted my car parked at the dry cleaners and caught me just in time. Had I not dropped my laundry off that morning, I might not have seen him again. As I turned to leave, there he was, waiting behind me with a broad smile of anticipation.

“Dad, can you give me a lift to the train?”

Always regretful whenever I had not seen Ben for several days, any opportunity to be with him delighted me. After I moved out of my home in July of 1999, there were times when I did not see him as often as I would have liked. Together we drove to the train. As I recall, our last conversation went something like this:

“How are you, Ben?”

“Fine, Dad. You?”

“Okay. How are you?”


“You feeling good?”


I turned into a parking lot across the street from the station. Checking to see that the latch on his messenger bag was securely fastened, he opened the passenger door.

As always, I asked him: “Do you have money on you?”

“Yes, Dad. Seeya’ later!”

“Be safe!”

The day at work would be, I thought, like any other. If only it had been! The phones rang all morning. Business was brisk! It was just before noon when I answered the next call. I heard the voice of a stranger. Identifying himself as a trauma surgeon in the emergency department of Cook County Hospital, he told me Ben had survived a nearly fatal traffic accident, but with critical injuries which required immediate surgical intervention. He “suggested” I come to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Suggested? I knew what he meant! Suffice to say, I knew how this day would end.” A myriad of frightful thoughts filled my head in a state of controlled desperation as I sped away to the hospital. The grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day which I had anticipated for years arrived this day.

After being fortunate enough to find parking two blocks away, I ran to the emergency department, whereupon I identified myself to the first nurse I encountered. She escorted me hurriedly to the surgeon, to whom I gave parental authorization, when asked, to employ all measures to save Ben. I expressed my wish to witness the efforts of the trauma team while it did everything in its power to save him.

Standing alongside my father, who arrived within minutes after I called, we stood witness to a desperate, ultimately futile effort almost within our grasp.

During these agonizing moments, I discovered a previously unknown facet of my father. Next to me stood a desperate man who was praying for the life of my son. Holding his hands overhead with palms flattened against the glass partition while holding back a torrent of tears, he pled with The Almighty for immediate intervention. In Ben’s declining seconds, while yet flickered a spark of life, my father—sensitive, but doggedly determined man that he is—called out a desperate plea to his grandson once … twice … thrice …

“Hang on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!”

Open heart massage … failed! Oxygen mask … failed! Electric shock … failed! A dark cloud smothered the din. The frenzied pace quieted. The equipment was turned off. The surgeon turned around to face me. His wearied face bespoke what I already knew. He shook his head. The embers of life died within Ben.

It seemed as if Ben had come into this world only a short while before. I was there then as I was now. A nurse asked me if I wished to be with my son. I told her I did. Only I could be with Ben. Taking hold of my father by his arm, she motioned him away and drew the curtain so that Ben and I not be disturbed.

Standing by Ben’s side, I placed a kippah upon his head and kissed his handsome nose.

“Thank you for being such a good son, Ben.”

With but precious few minutes left to be together before the attendants arrived, Ben “slept” while I … I hovered over him and whisperingly sang the 23rd Psalm.

“ … lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …” (I have no fear, for Thou art with me.)

Rabbi Louis arrived by taxi.

Frankly relieved that he took charge, his timely arrival assured me that Ben would be interred in accordance with Jewish tradition.

A noteworthy interlude took place before I had to tell his mom, who, unknown to me at the time, hadn’t yet arrived.

A nurse came to inform me that a group of Ben’s friends had arrived moments before and was waiting at the front desk. What I did not know then was that Ben’s friends had picked up Zac, Ben’s younger brother, and brought him along. Rabbi Louis and I went to receive them.

Cook County Hospital is frenetic. All manner of people: ambulatory patients attached to mobile drips, trauma patients being rushed to surgery strapped atop gurnies, doctors, nurses, visitors, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s deputies jam its hallways. Hospital policy forbade nonfamily members from visitation. We had to leave Ben’s buddies behind.

Trudging through the corridors with Rabbi Louis and Zac while returning back to the emergency department, it felt as if we were passing between classes in high school. Almost predictably, we were stopped—not by the assistant principal, but by a burly hospital security guard who asked us for our passes. Having none, he pointed us to the reception area where we had met Zachary minutes before.

Rabbi Louis, frustrated at the hapless absurdity of the moment, appealed beseechingly in hope of touching the guard’s better angels. “My friend’s son has just died!”

The guard refused to budge. Despite Rabbi Louis’s vociferous objections, it became apparent that his protestations had fallen on deaf ears. So back we trod to fetch the passes.

Meanwhile, Ben’s mom had arrived from a much longer distance than I. Passes in hand, we did make it back minutes later when came time to confront her with the awful news. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness, generously offered to stand in for me, but I felt this was my duty. Accompanying me together with my dad, our arms linked, we reluctantly crossed the hall to a small lounge wherein sat Ben’s mom awaiting news.

I approached her haltingly. “Ben is gone!” I cried out, placing my forehead atop her head. Within the shadow of a moment came forth an utterance of primal pain from Ben’s mom so horrifically terrifying that I suspect only a bereaved mother is capable of making it. I shall never forget its sound!

What more can one do in a moment like this? Though Zac, my dad and Rabbi Louis were present in the room with me, I recall nothing of their reactions to my grave announcement to Ben’s mom. It was as if she and I were alone in this sanitized lounge, the small sofa, chairs and lighting of which were unremarkably sterile. I left the room.

Tending to an important matter for which I had to speak to the surgeon, I found him standing in the hallway close by, appearing as though something was on his mind. I thanked him for all his efforts to save Ben’s life. While we spoke, I discerned a genuinely heartfelt sympathy for my family; furthermore, he seemed to intuitively understand me when I forbade an autopsy.

Weeks later, in a sworn deposition, part of a wrongful death suit brought by my family against the owner of the truck whose driver struck Ben, the surgeon testified to having been worried about my dad’s well-being when, during those several minutes, he bore witness to futility.

There remained nothing more we could do. Ben’s mom had left with Zac and my dad. Accompanied by Rabbi Louis, I walked to my truck. His companionship warmed me against the icy winds. How thankful I was that I would not have to go home alone!

While the engine warmed, Rabbi Louis contacted a mutual friend, a Chicago police chaplain, to see if he could expedite moving Ben’s remains from the hospital morgue to the funeral home. After several minutes had passed, I drove Rabbi Louis home.

That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000, ended together with my “world” as I had known it. I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment.

Posted: 9/5/2007 9:27:17 AM

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dear Readers,

The following article is a revision of a chapter excerpted from In Memory of Ben and will be published in the November 1, 2007 edition of Living With Loss, Bereavement Publications

"Every Day is Thanksgiving"

While our nation celebrates Thanksgiving on the fourth

Thursday in November, as a Jew, I give thanks every

morning upon awakening by saying: “Modei ani lefanecha,

melech chai vekayam, shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemla-

raba emunasecha – I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal

King, for You have returned my soul within me with

compassion … abundant is Your faithfulness.”

How does this observance of “Jewish Thanksgiving” differ

from that of our national holiday? The primary difference

is one that goes to the very core of Jewish religious belief: we

thank Him “yom yom- every day” by praising His name in good

times and bad.

Let’s be clear: I am not suggesting that Jews welcome

bad tidings. However, when they do happen, our faith in His

“rachomim and din-mercy and justice” encourages us to

remember that, though current circumstances appear dark

and foreboding, bad tidings do turn out for the best. We do

not, however, make any attempt to minimize the pain of


Almost two years ago on November 22, 2005, I received an email from my dear

friend Jan, who wrote:

Dear are in my thoughts and prayers today. I know what you are thinking about, and that you are missing Ben. I remembered that it was five years eternity, but as if only yesterday, for you. He was a beautiful boy, who wanted so much to be his own man...and he was. How else could he have endured so much, and yet still, was willing to give so much of himself? The true measure of a man is to be able to love unconditionally...and he did...and you did, even though you may feel, in retrospect, that it took awhile for you to finally reach that stage. I said "may feel", and "finally", Alan, because I know that you ALWAYS loved Ben unconditionally. The times that you were embarrassed by some of the ways that Ben chose to express himself, were only embarrassment...not a failure on Ben's part, or yours. You only wanted what was best for Ben...what you thought was best. That kind of love is the greatest gift that anyone can ever give or receive...and you and Ben gave that gift to each other.

I did not find anything Jan had said disagreeable. Her note revealed a keen

insight into the life of my late son Ben, alav ha shalom, and my efforts to

chronicle it. There was something troubling me though about the date of

the note, Tuesday, November 22, 2005, and Jan’s reference to

“today” in her opening sentence.

Later that evening, my fiancé and I were sharing a coffee.

“So how was your day?” she asked.

“Oh, okay I suppose,” I said, but before the conversation went

any further, it hit me. It finally made sense.

I realized that although the calendar date, Tuesday,

November 22, 2005, marked the fifth anniversary of my son’s

passing, it had been the week DAY, Wednesday, the day before

Thanksgiving that forever underscored the tragedy imprinted

on my heart.

In keeping with my belief about the presence of balance

and order in our world-though we may not perceive them

readily at times-our lives are not at the mercy of random

collisions of chance. You may even wonder about any

demonstrable proof I may have for this assertion. Well, I

haven’t any, but unlike the strict standards of scientific proof,

I submit the gift my daughter Kimberly shared with me that

same day.

I will never forget the excitement and glee in her voice. It

not only struck a welcome chord to complete this day, to

make the circle whole but reaffirmed my belief in how we give

thanks to the Master of The Universe who reawakens us every

morning to experience both good times and bad in our lives.

“Daddy, I got a job as a lawyer in a downtown firm! I’ll have an

office with a view from the 39th floor overlooking downtown. It’s

just what I wanted!”

“Kimmy Babe, that’s wonderful sweetheart. Mazel Tov.

I’m proud of you.” I rejoiced.

“Thanks Dad! Talk later, okay?” she ended.

That sums up, rather succinctly what happened on

November 22, 2005, when divine balance manifested itself

dramatically, affording me the opportunity to experience the

joy and love of both my children on what was the worst day

imaginable just five years before.

“Modei ani lefanecha …”

Alan Busch
Revised, 9/5/07

Monday, September 03, 2007

And You Think You Have Problems ...

(A continuation of my kvetching about living with early onset Parkinson's Disease ...)

Maybe your mom said this to you too when as a kid you complained too much, too often about not feeling well.. I remember my Mom saying it very clearly and in no uncertain terms:

"Ma, I don't feel vey good."

"What's wrong? Tell me where it hurts," she implored.

"Oghhhh, my stomach hurts really bad," which it did on occasion, but in the great kid tradition of soliciting as much sympathy from Mom as possible, I just might have hiked it up a bit,and it typically worked. Mom would respond with her usual formulae of medications and motherly loving-kindness.

But like every other good thing and-this is the way it should be too-there was a ceiling to what Mom would provide in terms of her smiling nursing bedside manner. When we reached that point she would routinely turn the guilt tables:

"Listen my Dear, you think you've got troubles, you're feeling sick. Sick? I'll show you sick. Let's take a ride to the children's ward at the hospital. You want sick? I'll show you sick!" she said not meanly but in a manner clearly intended to instruct.

And that would pretty much do the trick. Its object ... in the short term: to quiet my kvetching. In the grander scheme of things: to teach me the lesson of context
relativity. In other words, there is always someone sicker than you, whose "dreykop" requires more Excedrin Migraine than yours does. Or maybe you have heard it this way ... "Oh you think you're so tough, that you're the best wrestler on the team and maybe in the conference. Well, I've got news for you. There is always somebody better!

And you know what? It is an unimpeachable truth. There is unfortunately always someone sicker and another who is the better wrestler.

I had to be reminded of this boyhood lesson the other night when Kallah and I were having a spirited exchange. Okay, an argument. We settled the matter but not before I uttered classical expressions of "feel sorry for me" and "will you please come to my pity party."

So what has any of this have to do with Parkinson's Disease? Just this ... you may not know that Parkinsonian symptoms are highly individualized and the severity of its symptomology and resultant disability vary from person to person. One of my severest symptoms is that my spoken speech has been seriously disrupted, so characterized by an annoying and embarrassing stutter, a raspy, low voice and shortage of breath that, when I do speak, often runs out before I have finished my sentence.

As a boy I suffered from a stutter from about age five on, but I managed to control it over the years to the point that it would erupt only on rare occasions, and, as it often seemed, at the most embarrassing of moments ... when I'd be teaching, for example. However, by the time of my adulthood, I had pretty well mastered it. Guess what? The Parkinson's brought it back and in an especially nasty form.

So when Kallah and I were having our "spirited exchange" i was having the darndest time getting my words out.

"And as a matter of fact, I thththththink ththththis, ththththat and the other ththththing about that," after which I pounded the pillows with angry fist frustrated at my inability to stop my tongue from stuttering the "th" dipthong.

"You know what?" I asked of Kallah.

"What?" she shot back.

"There are times when I just wanna slit my throat and be done with it," I blathered out while wallowing in the sludge of self-pity.

"I can't believe you just said what you did," Kallah rebuked me.

The followng day we went to shul on Shabbat morning, and I felt compelled to sit alongside my friend Alan S. who suffers from a far more advanced Parkinson's than I, and as I watched him try to fold his tallis after services, I noticed some familiar difficulties.

It's quite difficult to fold anything if your fingertips can not retain their grip. I saw how tenuously Alan's fingertips were barely hanging on. Now consider this ... when we typically hold things, we grip them by the soft pads of our fingers. Think about it or look at your fingers the next time you are holding on to something and you'll see what I mean. I suffer this symptom too. In place of the pads of our fingers, we hold on by our fingertips very close to the fingernails. There is not a lot of retentive room there. Grasping things becomes problemtic.

So there I stood watching him struggle with this task ordinarily so simple. I went over to greet him.

"Alan, Shabbat shalom."

"Shabbat shalom to you," he replied, but rather than being focused on his words, I was drawn to staring at his right hand that shakes violently.

We sat down together minutes later and chatted together with his wife and Kallah. Again I watched Alan as he struggled to spread a dolip of tuna fish on a cracker, and it came back to me.

"You want sick? I'll show you sick. Come with me to the children's ward at the hospital," I suddenly heard my mom's words again, followed and reinforced by "I can't believe you said what you did," a replay of Kallah's rebuke from the evening before.