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Mirrors

Mirrors

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My hair, thank G‑d, is growing back. Hair, beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, the works.

My color has returned, or at least transformed from a yellow brown pallor to a more healthy tone.

I'm lookin' good. At least that's what everyone says.

It happened again last night. I went to a bar mitzvah and saw a guy I hadn't seen for a while. "You're lookin' good," he said.

"Well, at least better," I modestly replied.

"Oh, you can say thaaaat again," my friend said with a look that let me know that I had looked really baaaad these past eight months.

As the weeks since stopping my chemotherapy have passed, I've gotten this same response a lot. Now that I'm lookin' good, my friends and co-workers finally feel free to let me know how really baaaad I've looked.

"Did I really look that bad?" I asked my wife after the bar mitzvah.

"That bad," she said matter-of-factly.

I have mirrors in my house. I even have one by my front door that I look in before I go out of the house. I looked in the mirror a lot during the time my hair was falling out, when I was nearly bald over most of my body.

It wasn't that I didn't see myself during these months, yet never did it seem to me that I looked soooo bad.

Well, that's not 100% true. There were a lot of times that I thought I looked pretty bad, but when I would ask my family they always told me that I looked great.

"Can I really go out of the house looking like this?" I asked.

"You look terrific, Ta," my daughter would say. "Get outta here!"

And when I was at work, people would come into my office and talk to me like they did before. I never saw a weird bald-guy reflected in their eyes or in their face.

I work in public relations and one time during my chemotherapy-bald-phase there was going to be a large press conference with TV cameras, photographers and journalists. I questioned whether, given the way I looked, I should be the one to represent the organization in such a public forum, but my co-workers insisted that I do so and assured me that I would do just fine.

And I did. And the conference was a big success, even though some journalists printed my picture with captions that read, "Chernobyl Aid Worker Battles Disease He Works to Prevent", and things like that.

But among my friends, family and co-workers, I walked with my head high and never caught even the slightest inkling of pity, disgust, fear or repulsion.

Just the opposite. They made me feel like a champion. Like a guy whose strength and fortitude under trying times was something to be proud of.

In shul, too, I encountered (much to my relief) the same response. Between the time I found out I was going to receive chemo and the time my hair actually fell out, I asked my rabbi how I should handle it: Just stay home from shul? Maybe get a heter to shave my beard so I wouldn't look so weird with little hairy wisps hanging down? But no, he said, I should carry on as usual. Of course come to shul. And he assured me it would all be okay.

And he was right. It was okay. No one pretended I looked the same. Many people let me know that they were with me during this difficult time. Most everyone told me how good I looked, how strong I acted, and how sure they were that all would turn out just fine, and more than fine, in the end. Some people said nothing but just treated me the same as always. Others would sit down and want to know all the details. And after a while, hardly anyone said anything to me about my looks and I came and went to and from shul without even thinking about my appearance.

I found a picture of myself the other day that my daughter took while I was in the midst of my chemotherapy. In the photo, I was in my pajamas, lying on the couch, the place I would retreat to on those days when the chemo would get the better of me.

I hadn't seen the photo before, so I was seeing it for the first time while my beard was already getting thick and my hair filling in rather than falling out. In other words, I was already lookin' good when I picked up the picture.

I was shocked at how I looked. I looked thaaaat baaaad; awful, as a matter of fact.

When I asked my family how they could have told me that I looked wonderful when I actually looked so horrendous they just looked at me with love in their eyes and smiled.

Didn't they see how awful I looked? Or, did their love for me blind them to my altered appearance? Didn't my co-workers notice my ugliness, or did their affection and compassion alter their vision? Did the guys in shul not see my wispy beard and bald head, my sickly facial color and the strangeness of a face without eyebrows or lashes?

Or, were all of them simply wise and loving enough to know that the mirror they created was the reflection through which I would come to see myself? Did they all - family, friends, colleagues - consciously reflect the vision that would provide the strength for me to carry on?

I was a very lucky guy to be surrounded by such wise and loving people. And if there are lessons to be learned from this ordeal, one of those lessons is the power we all have in the mirror we choose to create for those around us.

When I look into your eyes I can learn to love myself. When you look into mine, please see how wonderful you are and have been.

Thank you, all. And remember:

You're Lookin' Gooooood!

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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Anonymous Pittsburgh October 17, 2013

Well said! you've empowered a lot of people, including me. Thank you! Reply

Donna Mobile, Alabama August 1, 2011

Your Special Jay I also have had cancer, I have had Breast Cancer twice, it was a shock the first time, but I was dealing with losing my Mother and all my emotions were dealing with her loss and being there for my Father. I was lucky the first time, it was a pre-early stage and I needed no surgery. After 9 years, it came back in my breast, a different breast cancer in another area, I had a small lump, stage 1, I went through high dose chemo and radiation for weeks, then was put on Arminidex 1 mg for 5 yrs. When I got the diagnosis for the 2nd time, it hit me hard, I did not want treatment, but I wanted to live. I got treated by a UAB in Alabama, they were like my Angels. I did lose all my hair, I had a long braid, my hair was real long, I bought wigs, but stopped wearing them. I got sick, but I felt I looked great, put on a pair of big earrings , red lipstick and a lovie on my head, and go for it. My hair is long again, Life is to celebrate and G-D has blessed me, Im in remission a proud survivor. Reply

Elizabeth Olomouc, Czech Republic January 2, 2008

simply wonderful I don't have the right words to say, but this really shows how LOVE can overcome everything, even physical aspect of life.
I am very glad that I have read this story. It helped me to understand...

Thank You!!! Reply

Anonymous london, england December 8, 2005

courage I have had chemo and been in a similar situation. Discusing Jay's article with other sufferers has made us realize that it is not just us the sufferers who have to be brave but every one we come into contact with.
This article has made us change the way we think of what others say to us. Reply

Chany NYC, NY August 23, 2005

Thank you! Very touching. You made me feel stronger -- thank you, Reply

Anonymous August 19, 2004

Today something happened and afterwards it was as if some internal mirror rose from some internal mists, reflecting lack. At least, that's all I could see, and I felt small and shamed.

And so, like a little child needing comfort and especially guidance, I nearly 'ran' to Jay Litvin, the way I often do when I have problems handling something.

Not yet having read "Mirrors" I clicked on that.

And you know what?

My lacks don't define me. Nor desribe me. And I can do something about them. G-d didn't make me helpless.

And you know what else?

Come to think of it - I'm looking goooooood !!!

Thank you, Jay.

Reply

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