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Counting Our Blessings

Counting Our Blessings

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Last night as my husband, Jeff, and I had dinner together, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. After nearly twenty-five years of marriage, eating dinner together is hardly a novel phenomenon. I have calculated, in fact, that we have eaten nearly 9,000 dinners together, and I have likely cooked more than 8,000 of them!

Fortunately, our enduring partnership has not dulled our affection for, or interest in, one another. In contrast to the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, familiarity for us has bred content, and much more. Today we cherish a deeper emotional connection than we could have dreamed possible when we first married.

Fortunately, our enduring partnership has not dulled our affection for, or interest in, one anotherWe are now quasi–empty nesters who still work long hours at our respective jobs. Physically and psychologically, our evening meals provide nourishment for both body and soul. We talk about our kids, our work, the news. We talk about books we are reading, and share new insights from classes we have attended. And of course there is the mundane stuff of life, such as who will take the car for the oil change, and when we will ever get around to dumping the ancient, faded family room couch and give that neglected space a facelift. If the day has been particularly maddening or frazzling, we’ll play surefire calming classics for ambiance; other evenings we’ll play Celtic instrumentals, Spanish guitar, and folk/rock from “our time.”

What made last night’s dinner particularly meaningful was that it was the first night in nearly two weeks when Jeff could sit up for dinner at all without excruciating pain. Twelve days earlier, he had begun feeling unwell. Two days after that, he experienced brutal head and neck pain whenever he tried to sit up or stand. Although it was Shabbat morning, I called the paramedics, and within minutes we were riding in an ambulance to the emergency room. Over the next eleven hours, a caring and capable doctor and a cadre of hardworking nurses tried to ease Jeff’s pain, while test after test was employed to determine the cause.

Jeff has been blessed with excellent health and stamina—blessings that we tried not to take for granted. His robust energy seemed like more than a blessing; it seemed a vital necessity given the demands of running a small business, where twelve-hour work days for him are much too common. In twenty-two years of running his business, he’s rarely missed a day of work due to illness. And when he has, it was usually because I adamantly insisted that he stay home to rest.

The suddenness and severity of his pain was terrifyingThe suddenness and severity of his pain was terrifying, but we tried not to “catastrophize,” and fought the tendency to imagine dreadful diagnoses. Fortunately, every test at the hospital revealed a man in good health. Finally, the doctor surmised that the pain was caused by a nasty virus. After lots of high-tech tests, he recommended a low-tech solution of complete bed rest and lots of liquids. We were relieved to finally come home, but were exhausted and still worried. Was this really a virus? If so, how long would the symptoms last? What if the doctor was wrong?

A few days later a neurologist diagnosed the problem as a small tear at the base of Jeff’s brain, a rare and unlikely event given that he had not had any recent head trauma. This tear caused spinal fluid to leak when Jeff was in any upright position. The doctor was optimistic that several days of complete rest and drinking copious amounts of liquid would heal the tear. And if it didn’t, there were non-surgical corrections available.

Jeff had no choice but to submit to a regimen of complete bed rest. But while you can take the man out of the office, you can’t always take the office out of the man, and my husband continued to work via BlackBerry and iPad while lying down. “Just because I’ve sprung a leak doesn’t mean I can’t work,” he joked, revealing that his sense of humor was still intact while mine was missing in action. I typed the longer e‑mails, because—trust me—it’s really hard to type while holding an iPad aloft.

During his convalescence, the morning blessings assumed a new poignancy and meaning for both of us: “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who releases the bound . . . Who straightens the bent . . . Who gives strength to the weary.” For the first time in his life, Jeff recited these blessings unable to stand. As he slowly regained strength and equilibrium, and was able to sit up for a few minutes longer each day, we were in awe of how the Almighty designed the human body with such exquisite balance, miraculous complexity and a remarkable capacity to heal.

Enduring the health scare of his life has made him determined to finally implement the kind of changes he has long wanted to makeThis episode reminded us of what we knew intellectually but had not experienced personally: no matter how many hundreds or even thousands of times we have thanked G‑d for the miracles we take for granted, such as waking up and being able to see, to stand and to relieve ourselves without blinding pain, it’s only when these gifts are taken away that we can fully appreciate the masterpiece of a healthy human body.

Despite the fright and pain of this episode, we realize how blessed we are that it was of short duration, and according the doctor, unlikely to recur. “It’s another reminder that the small things are the big things,” my husband said to me that evening, enjoying the novel sensation of sitting up pain-free. Enduring the health scare of his life has made him determined to finally implement the kind of changes he has long wanted to make at work, so that he can run his business more than his business runs him.

As he told a friend who came to visit, “This experience has reminded me in no uncertain terms of what’s really important in my life: the unconditional love from my wife and children, a supportive community and a loyal team of employees. I like to think that the goodness I’ve tried to put out there over the years has come home when I needed it most.”

This is why our quiet little dinners, which we had already looked forward to each night with happy anticipation, are times to cherish even more, both of us grateful to know we’ve got each other.

Judy Gruen’s latest award-winning book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. Read more of her work on her website.
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Anonymous Montville via chabadmontville.com July 20, 2012

Counting our Blessings Very inspiring! May Hashem grant you many more years of happy, healthy dinner times together. Reply

Mr victor fatherheart consoler Nsugbe July 20, 2012

Counting our Blessings Dear Judy, Shalom i love your article. Reply

DRB RPB, FLA July 16, 2012

Never Take A Moment For Granted! Beautifully written about what could be the most mondane of moments, but within my gratitude to Hashem....I have learned and abide by NEVER taking any one thing for granted....Thank G-d for the keyboard I am able to write a message on! Reply