At 8:30 in the morning (early for me!), those of us from Jerusalem and the surrounding area gathered at Binyanei HaUma. As soon as I arrived, I joined the tumult. You could not miss our group. Women of every religious orientation were milling about, busy greeting old friends and already making new ones. About half the women were already on the bus, while others were huddled on the sidewalk, too busy catching up to board the bus.
I recognized so many of the women and even more recognized me -- some of whom I then remembered, but others I did not. I was able to explain my lapse in memory with two words: "chemo brain." The women understood, and were not cynical, because most of them knew what I was talking about from first hand experience! What a relief!
Finally, it was time to go. We talked the whole way there, shuffling seats occasionally, so we could talk with everyone . By the time we arrived, we were already coalescing as a group.
When we arrived at Nir Etzion, I was so excited to see MC, from last year's support group, sitting in the lobby! While we were catching up, a long line formed at the registration desk (by a "long line" I mean that 30 women were crowded around the desk trying to register!) No worries. I went to get a cup of coffee and joined several other friend who already arrived from around the country, including Ch, from my support group, and T, with whom I roomed last year.
By the time I finished my coffee, the line had disippated and I quickly registered. Then I dumped my things in my room and rejoined the group in the large hall. The chairs were set up in a large circle, with a bag on every seat containing the schedule, hand creams, chocolates, and a T-shirt (size M!). As the late commers straggled in, I exchanged my T-shirt for an XXL! (cancer has not caused/helped me to lose my appetite!)
After the greetings, the group was split into two smaller groups, each led by one of Beit Natan's oncological social workers. Both groups did the same introductory activity:
Participants were given a small piece of paper on which to draw or write an image or word that represent renewal to them. The individual pictures/papers were posted by themes on a large board, showing both the diversity and commonality of our group.
I drew a picture of a glowing shkediya (almond tree). In Israel, the shkediya is the first tree to bloom. As soon as I showed my picture, before I could even ellaborate on why I chose it, the group burst into song:
Hashkediya porachat, veshemesh paz zorachat
Tziporim merosh kol gag, mevasrot at bo hechag
Tu BiShvat higiyah, hag hailanot
The almond tree is blooming, the golden sun is shining
From the rooftops, the birds are heralding the coming of the holiday
Tu B'Shvat (the 15th of Shvat) has arrived, the holiday (birthday) of the trees!
The almond tree represents renewal -- the coming of spring; new life emerging from the cold, barren winter; the white and pink flowers, reflecting the sunlight, glowing with hope and beauty.
My birthday is exactly a week after Tu B'Shvat. So, for me, the blooming almond tree marks not only another calendar year for the trees, but another calendar year for me as well.
When I drew the tree, I thought it might seem cliché, but only one other person drew an almond tree. Other women drew flowers, buds, leaves, and other trees (i.e. a cypress tree). There were other themes as well: children, grandchildren, smiles, etc. -- so many different images, representing our faith in the future and the sources of our strength
After lunch, we could rest, go for a walk, or participate in a laughter workshop, led by Yehudit Kotler, who I met last year at the retreat, and who hosts free laughter workshops in her home every Rosh Chodesh. I went several times this past year, and even brought my youngest daughter with me once. (if you are interested, email me for details) Of course, I chose to attend the laughter workshop!!
Boy did we laugh!! Two women, T (last year's roommate) and L (who cracked me up at last year's laughter workshop), made me laugh so much! It was the best workshop that I have attended yet! Everyone participated and just laughed and laughed. I felt so great afterwards!!
A word about T -- last year, I requested that they put me in a room with someone who has been living with cancer for a LONG time. They put me with T, who has been living with a brain tumor for 20 years! (ok, last year it was only 19 years!) She has such a positive attitude, she really inspired me! This year, I told her how much it had meant to me.
After the break, we divided into smaller groups for our next session. I chose a session called "living, dreaming." I thought it would be about how to actualize our dreams (i.e. aspirations). I saw this as an opportunity to continue a process that I began during last year's retreat, of learning to believe, and embrace, the future. The facilitator was nice, but I did not relate to the sources she shared with us. I did not get much out of the session, which was disappointing. Though it was still nice meeting other women and hearing what they had to say.
Dinner put me back in a good mood. The food was varied, plentiful, and delicious! Each meal was an opportunity to talk with different women. Each table seated ten women, so there were always both new and familiar faces.
The evening program was FANTASTIC and deserves a post of its own....
Tune in tomorrow.... Same bat time.... Same bat channel....
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,