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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exposed

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It might not surprise you to learn that I have a tough time on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur has always been tough for me, for different reasons, primarily because I did not fast well nor was I into davening (praying) ALL day.

I am still not into davening all day, but, these days, fasting is not a problem. With my current chemo, I have no appetite. Normally, I have to force myself to eat, at least twice a day, so I can take my chemo after food. My oncologist said I could skip my morning dose, so I did not have to eat at all, which suited me just fine. I still had to drink, which was also just fine, since the chemo makes me VERY thirsty, all the time!

I am so past all the angst about drinking while the rest of the Jewish world is fasting (I have posted about that topic here). God gave me cancer, God knows I have to drink. If anyone has a problem with that, they can take it up with God. I am too tired to feel guilty about drinking and I am too anxious to worry about anything other than my prayers!

After missing almost all of Rosh HaShanah davening, I was preoccupied with making it to at least some of the significant tefillot (prayers) on Yom Kippur, particularly Kol Nidre and Ne'ilah. (I managed to make it for both of these tefillot as well as most of Musaf)

The thing is, davening itself is hard. Praying for your life takes on a whole new meaning, when you have cancer. If I maintain an emotional distance, then I can also maintain my composure. But when that barrier is broken, so am I.

The thing is, we are not meant to maintain an emotional distance when we daven. The power of our prayer is greatest when we are emotionally open and vulnerable to God.

But does the whole world have to see it??

There were several points during my tefillot when I was overcome, and could not stop myself from crying. It took all my energy to contain my emotions and not draw attention to myself.

The first time it happened, I realized I forgot to bring tissues!! Luckily, the Rebbetzin was sitting in front of me, and her daughter had a stack of tissues on her chair. (Still, you better believe I remembered to bring my own tissues the next day!!)

My youngest daughter was concerned when she saw me cry; she did not understand at first. Eventually she realized that she just had to let me cry, and she did her best to console me, as did my eldest. It was comforting to be surrounded by my daughters.

Nevertheless, I felt exposed.

My soul was bared, without my consent, and the entire congregation of women bore witness. I did not want that.

In reality, I do not really know how many women noticed, since I did not look up or around. But I felt exposed. And I felt embarrassed.

Men have the luxury of being able to hide their faces with their tallitot (fringed prayer shawl, traditionally worn only by men). Women have nothing.

After tefillot (prayers), I found it difficult to greet the other women. When possible, I avoided their eyes. I did not want to find myself staring into the "sad, knowing eyes" of people who really do not know (thank God). Rather than hang around talking, I just wanted to go home and go to sleep.

It was a little better the next day, because I was more prepared. But this issue resurfaced at least twice.

By the end of the day, I was able to smile and greet my friends, though I still found myself avoiding the eyes of the women I don't know so well.

My only comfort comes from a parable I heard years ago:

One Yom Kippur night, several talmidim (students) were surprised to find their Rebbe (Rabbi) crying inconsolably in the Beis Medrash (Beit Midrash - study hall). The talmidim rushed to the Rebbe's side, asking "Rebbe, what's wrong?" After a long pause, the Rebbe answered, through his sobs, "On Yom Kippur, if we are not crying when we pray to Hashem (God), then you should ask 'what's wrong.'"



Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,
RivkA

10 comments:

adena said...

Rivka,
I found Yom Kippur difficult this year as well...somehow, dealing with cancer, the prayers took on a new (and more difficult) meaning. I think you were brave to open yourself up enough to really pray, and to cry, even if you felt embarrassed. I'm sure others were not judging you.
Shana Tova to you.

Naama said...

Yes, the prayers were extremely hard for me too this year, losing my Tamar to cancer only 6 weeks ago.
Praying for life was close to impossible.
I stopped caring about everybody see me crying long ago.
(It did bother my daughters, though..)
I wish you many many happy years.

Karen said...

RivkA, none of us knows how long we have, you're just more aware of it than most of us are. All of us should have the same difficulty praying for life that you do. I have the most trouble blessing my kids before YK, because I can deal with whatever happens to me.

Alissa said...

I can't relate to the reasons *why* behind the crying, but for different reasons, I found myself bawling during one point in the service. Tears were streaming down my face, and I felt like everyone must be staring at me.

Of course, no one was, I'm sure no one noticed, yet I still felt embarrassed and exposed. And of course, no one knows my reasons for crying. And no one would have any cause to think they knew my reasons. That must be a big difference, I'm sure.

Thank you for that quote; it is comforting. It also, for some reason, reminded me of a quote I used to keep on my computer monitor (back in my desktop days),
"do not ask a child what is a miracle,
she will ask you, 'what in all the world is not?' "

It seems totally unrelated, but my mind is connecting the two.

ilanadavita said...

You are a very brave woman and an example for many. Hope you no longer feel so bad about being exposed during the YK davening.

Sarah said...

I think it is a gift that we get to deeply feel what it means to daven for our lives. A few months after having survived the flesh eating bacteria, having been in a coma with system failure, I found myself all-out crying at the Rosh Hashana service with the part about "who will die and who will live, who will die before their time, who by fire, who by stoning, ...and so on. I bawl at that one still, 2 years later.

Thank Gd we can cry. It shows exactly how alive we really are.
And you, my friend, are very, very alive. And you can cry if you want to. :-)

muse said...

Crying is healthy; I wish I had the knack.
Refuah Shleimah

S. I. Goodman said...

Well, to tell you the truth, after hiding in my house for 3 years I've picked myself up and gone out to the working world. I can only do this by not thinking about the cancer that I had. If I let myself think about it, the fear of it returning seems to take over my life. I can only function by detaching myself from it and going on. I suppose that's one of the important things we learn from dealing with cancer. Life is finite here on earth. Make the most of it now. We realize that. Not everyone does. For that I am thankful. For every day that I can wake up and enjoy life I am thankful.

westbankmama said...

RivkA - it is a different situation, but I can relate to you being embarrassed. After a number of years trying unsuccesfully to get pregnant, I found myself crying on Yom Kippur too. A lot of the women around me did not know my specific situation, but I still felt exposed. The lack of privacy is a difficult thing to deal with. Just remember, everyone has "pekalach" (as my grandmother used to say).

Anonymous said...

I also found davening this YK very difficult, after losing my mother earlier this year. Actually, I found myself suddenly incredibly angry. Why had her prayers not been answered last year??? It was a very emotional day.
The thing is, I clearly remember my mother crying in shul on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur after her own mother died, 15 years or so ago. I was a teenager and incredibly embarrassed; a friend of my mother's saw my reaction and put her arm around me, telling me not to be, that my mother's reaction was completely normal. Sadly, I understand now.