I felt sad today when I came home from the hospital and didn't know why. So, I lay down, shut my eyes, and let myself feel the heaviness in my chest. As the heaviness increased, the thought arose that I was simply feeling the sadness of my body after enduring a difficult day of waiting, being poked, and sitting for hours connected to tubes and bags of chemicals. Then I began to see visions of the other people in the room, some younger and in worse shape than me, some older, all having to endure the needles and tubes and sores of various blood diseases and their treatment. I felt sad for all of us.

The thought crossed my mind that I was feeling sorry for myself. And then I thought: Who's the I and who's the self? I was feeling the sadness of my body and soul, and they were me.

So, the sadness engulfed me and I did not split off into "I" and "it". And as I began to cry a bit my wife walked in and sat beside me. It's good that she did because when I get sad like this and don't know why I tend to withdraw and go silent, which I had done with her towards the end of the day in the hospital and on the ride back in the car and after we arrived home. I knew she was feeling badly and I was feeling lonely and when she sat down to be with me, without saying a word but with a look in her eyes, I softened, opened, and we were together again.

There was in the chemo room today an elderly couple. The white-haired man was there for his treatment, and his wife was there to be by his side. I first noticed her because when she walked past me I saw the numbers tattooed on her arm, numbers from the concentration camp. They were so vivid, as if she had been numbered yesterday. And each time she walked by me there were those numbers.

The chemo therapy rooms in my hospital are tiny, filled with maybe twenty people getting treatment and another fifteen who are there, like my wife and this woman with numbers on her arm, to be companions to the patients. The chairs are set closely, one next to the other, with an island of medical supplies in the middle. The people there are too young and very old, men and women, sephardi and ashkenazi, religious and secular, most bald from chemo, most very thin, many getting blood transfusions, some looking close to the end, G‑d forbid, some looking healthy and strong, thank G‑d. One or two had open sores or skin so thin and black that it looked like it would rip off when the tape holding the needle in place was pulled from their arm. Hardly anyone is of normal color; we all range from white to gray to green or sickly brown.

Because the room (one of three) is so crowded and understaffed, the vibe is often very tense, with people waiting for their medications to be started or for the nurse to come and replace the empty bag of chemicals with a full one, the next one, the one that brings us closer to the end of our treatment. All of us are waiting for the time when all our bags will be empty and the nurse will pull the needle from our veins and we can go home.

Most of us have been in the hospital since early in the morning, waiting. Waiting at the registration counter, then for our blood test (I had 40 people in front of me yesterday), then for the results of our blood test, then to see the doctor who will, if our blood is good enough, give us a form ordering our meds. With form in hand, we return to the registration desk and wait again to have it stamped. Then we go to the treatment room and wait to give our stamped form to the secretary who will send it up to the pharmacy. Then we wait for our meds to arrive, and again to find an empty seat in the treatment room, unless we choose to receive our treatment in the hallway. Once seated, we wait for the nurse to find time to insert the needle in our vein and begin our medication. Drip by drip by drip.

There are so few nurses (kind, wonderful people that they are) that one of the reasons the lucky ones among us have a companion is to find us a glass of water or a blanket or to alert the nurse when our med bag is empty and should be changed. One can feel very sick, be fighting down nausea, be covered with sores, but must, in this chemotherapy room, be ever alert and at the ready. And people who don't have someone with them or who are more passive than others or are too weak to get up and take care of themselves can sit and wait and wait and wait.

So this old guy with white hair and the wife with the numbers on her arm must have been waiting and waiting until he finally lost his patience and his self-control and began screaming. He managed to get the nurses' attention and one came to calm him down. But it was too late. He had crossed the line and was into his rage. He yelled at the nurse, and when his wife also tried to calm him he yelled at her and told her to go home. The nurse continued her attempts to quiet him, but to no avail. He was going to leave. And when his wife tried a second time, he again yelled at her, even louder and in front of this whole room full of people, all of whom were by now focused on this screaming man and his wife.

From the color that rose in her cheeks and the way her eyes darted around the room to see who was watching, she was clearly humiliated, but she stayed by his side. But when he again yelled at her to go home, she said she'd had enough and walked out of the room. Halfway down the hallway she stopped and stood motionless as if confronting an invisible wall. She stood with her back to the room and to me, yet in her silence and stillness I — and I think everyone else who was watching — could imagine what was going through her mind. How could she leave him, sick with cancer and in need of treatment? Yet, how could she go back after being treated like this, and in front of others?

Her husband, meanwhile, kept yelling, stood up gruffly, and roughly gathered up his things and walked out of the room. When he caught up to his wife he said nothing that I could perceive, and they walked out together — this man whose anger and frustration had reached its limit and his devoted wife, a woman who clearly had endured more than enough hardship in her life.

I was upset and sad watching this scene and judging the man and not liking him much. But later I remembered times when I'd gotten so mad and wanted to yell and fight and someone intervened to try and calm me down and I was furious at the intervention. For some of us, once we're in the fight, those who don't join in the battle become traitors on the other side. And I realized that this old guy had crossed the line where there was only battle, and either his wife was with him or against him, and he was beyond reason.

My wife pointed out that he could only act this way because he knew she would always be there, that she would never leave him. And so, because of her devotion, she had to bear the brunt of his anger — the anger of an old man with cancer enduring the humiliation of being ill, of sitting in this crowded, sickly room, of being ignored, of waiting for hours and hours, and asserting his personhood in anger, such futile, impotent anger that the only one he could manage to damage in his rage was his wife with the numbers on her arm who would never, ever leave him.

Was this an excuse for his behavior? Of course not. Yet, when I thought about it — and I thought about it a lot — I wondered if, for better or worse, this was the condition of marriage between humans. For all the ideals we hold it to be, marriage is also and often the stage upon which is expressed our life's past and present frustrations, thwarted dreams, undeserved suffering, and unbearable humiliations. Even more so as we age and we see our hopes and visions collide with a reality less fruitful or kind as we would like. And, of course, there is the simple, often harsh reality that we are indeed who we are; that although we've grown and transcended much, there is, as well, too much residue of the dross of who we are, the stuff we must reluctantly accept and which may be the best (or worst) of who we may be until the end of our time on earth.

We hold high ideals of who we and our marriages should be — ideals of love, kindness, mutual respect, responsibility, patience and generosity. Yet at the same time there is the reality in which our jealousies, anger, frustrations, early childhood conditioning, needs and wants, expectations and disappointments, selfless love and selfish desires, self control and lack of it, also become the struggles, bonds and passions that weave us together in matrimony.

Under the chupah (wedding canopy), the bride circles the groom seven times, creating the symbolic space of their home and their marriage. Once created, she steps in to join him with a commitment of forever. It is a space containing our highest hopes and ideals of a Jewish marriage blessed by G‑d.

But is this unbroken circle defining the space and sanctity of our marriage unbreakable? Is it dependent on whether the Divine ideals of marriage are achieved? Or is the strength of this circle more truly revealed when inhabited by humans in their struggle to be the best that they can be and often failing to achieve the ideals they hold for themselves and each other?

There is no excuse for this man who yelled at his wife in the heat of his anger and frustration. Nothing to condone his behavior towards a woman so devoted, one who has suffered too much in her life already. No mitigating circumstances that force our or her forgiveness of him.

And when his wife stopped in the hallway unable to proceed any further, I cannot know for sure what stopped her. But I'd like to think that perhaps she met the edge of a circle created decades before.

A circle unbroken and unbreakable. A Divine space inhabited by humans.