Monday, September 25, 2017

On the Miracle of Aunt Viv

Dear Mackenzie,

Your Aunt Viv is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met.  She’s kind. She’s giving.  She loves unconditionally and profoundly. She has a strong faith in God.  And she believes in miracles.

The dictionary defines a miracle as a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

About three or four years ago your Aunt Viv got very sick. Something was wrong with her lungs and no one could figure out what the problem was. As her illness wore on and after discarding several of the more benign possibilities, the doctors thought Viv must have some form of lung cancer. We waited with our hearts in our throats for the test results, fearing the worst.  Only your Aunt Viv held steadfastly to the notion that God was with her and that this was not her time to go.

While we were waiting for the test results your grandpa, who is a very seasoned doctor, went to see Aunt Viv in the hospital. After his visit your grandpa called me. “I’ll be very surprised if she has cancer” he said.  When I asked him why, he said she was not showing the physical indications of someone with lung cancer. I couldn’t tell you how he described it medically but in lay person terms she was simply doing better, which your grandpa said is not how the body behaves as lung cancer progresses.

Sure enough, a battery of tests showed no sign of lung cancer, or of any other cancer for that matter.  Viv’s health continued to improve, and other than some scar tissue in her lungs the doctors declared that she was cured. They said her illness had been “idiopathic”, which is medical jargon for “we don’t know what the hell caused it or why it stopped”.

Your Aunt Viv had a different explanation.  God had performed a miracle. 

I’m not the most devout person, nor the most pious. But in the face of what we had just witnessed I had to acknowledge that a miracle had indeed occurred.  We celebrated life, God, and our good fortune, and left it at that.

Then about a year later Viv started getting pneumonia with alarming frequency.  Back to the doctors she went. More tests, more theories, more diagnoses.  And slowly a consensus began to build amongst the specialists that your Aunt Viv had something called interstitial lung disease, a chronic disease that manifests with increasing scarring of the lungs. At some point it becomes irreversible and terminal.

As Viv’s health continued to deteriorate, I privately came to reframe the miracle as simply a misdiagnosis. To this day I haven’t been able to shake the notion that a better team of pulmonary specialists might have figured things out earlier and been able to help her while the disease was still in its infancy. Who knows. But does that mean God isn’t at Viv’s side, or that her life hasn’t been blessed with miracles? Not at all.

Your Aunt Viv got married a bit later in life, and she was blessed with the marriage most people only dream of. Your uncle Ron is her best friend and soul mate. The two have been by each other’s side through thick and thin, and they remain solidly, unshakably, dare I say divinely, in love. Viv always wanted a big family, and their beautiful blended one is chock full of children and grandchildren who they love and who love them.

Viv is a healer. She’s also a natural leader, a writer, and a public speaker. She had a wonderful career as an Obstetrical nurse. She has led the nursing corps of various ObGyn units. She has given seminars on leadership and on nursing all over the country. I can tell you, my sweet daughter, that those things fulfilled her and made her so, so happy. I never saw Viv more giddy with joy than when she was staying in some little motel in the middle of nowhere, teaching a seminar or making a speech. Maybe I’m crazy, but being able to do the things one loves to do while making a difference in the world, well, isn’t that a miracle?

Although our family was Jewish, in her twenties your Aunt Viv converted to Christianity. I never asked her what brought her to that epiphany, but her newfound faith fortified her and made her happy, and she found comfort in God’s hands.

So was her idiopathic illness and temporary cure of a few years ago a miracle? I have no idea. A miracle may not be explicable by natural or scientific laws, but unfortunately interstitial lung disease is. And barring some sort of medical miracle now, your Aunt Viv will shortly transition from this earthly existence to whatever may be next.

The real miracle though, the sustaining miracle, the miracle I will remember all the days of my life, is the goodness and the light and the love that is your Aunt Viv. No one who has known her will forget the bigness of her heart, or her ability to face adversity with the utmost grace, or the legacy that is evident when one simply looks around at her family.

Whoever God is, wherever God roams, whatever His plan, may He look after your Aunt Viv for all eternity in the way that she so richly deserves.

Amen.

All my everlasting love,

Dad

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Fifty-Two Weeks


Dear Mackenzie,

Fifty-two weeks.
Twelve months.
One year. 
A small fraction of the average human life span. 
The blink of an eye in the history of time.

About a year ago I decided to try to write you a letter each week for a year. And now fifty-two weeks and letters later, I am done.

In many ways I suspect these letters reveal more about me than about you or your sisters.  I spent part of the last year in physical therapy fixing my creaky body. My physical therapist, a talented young woman named Sharon, would laugh at me every week. “You address the letters to Mackenzie,” she would say, “and then you write about you”. 

Sharon was probably right, but that’s okay. Maybe subconsciously that was no accident. How you and I will experience each other when you’re an adult and I’m an old man is different than how we experience each other now, when you’re still very young and I’m still reasonably vibrant.  I wanted to capture that snapshot for both of us. I hope I did.

So these letters are about you and the world as I experienced you both in 2012.  No more and no less.

52 weeks of my thoughts about life, love, courage, faith, family, and how to negotiate a bigger allowance.

52 weeks of meditations about your place in my heart, and hopefully about my place in yours.

52 weeks of lessons for the both of us to learn.

May these letters guide you and comfort you.

May they give you a boost and a helping hand as you go through life.

May they bring abundant joy and a couple of smiles to you and your sisters, and to your future families. 

May they forever remind you how much your amazing mom and I love you guys with every breath we take.

Many years ago when I was just a boy, I was sitting around with your great-grandma Granny Goldberg and your great-grandma Lilly. “May you live to a hundred and twenty”, Granny Goldberg said at one point.  Your great-grandma Lilly smiled and replied, “and why would you limit him to only a hundred and twenty?”  She was only half kidding.

By the time you’re the age I am as I write to you now, most likely your mom and I won’t be physically around. But if we are, my sweet daughter, we’ll remind you to be bold and courageous. We’ll remind you to dare and to risk. We’ll remind you to love fully and profoundly.  We’ll remind you to be kind and considerate. And most importantly, we’ll remind you to see life for the amazing adventure that it is.

When I set out to write you these letters, I never imagined the personal fulfillment and satisfaction I myself would get from writing them. But in the end, the joy that you, Heather, Jamie, and your wonderful mom give me each and every day is more than should even be legal.

Now and forever, of thee I sing.

All my everlasting love,

Dad

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Things That Go Bump in the Night


Dear Mackenzie,

One night a few weeks ago my cell phone rang at 3 A.M. I groggily looked at the screen and saw that it was you calling me.  I knew you were home and having a sleepover with your friend Peyton. Weird.

"Hi," I mumbled into the phone. "Daddy", you said in an urgent whisper. "Come downstairs quick. Someone is breaking into the house".  I bolted out of bed and down the stairs. In my fog, my mind was not processing what you were doing downstairs at that hour, or where Peyton was, or for that matter what I could possibly do to combat an intruder if indeed there was one.  In the nanosecond that it took me to get downstairs, I had a horrible flashback.

Many years ago, the year I graduated from law school, I spent the summer studying for the bar exam.  My girlfriend at the time lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in a sketchy part of town. But the rent was cheap and when you're young you feel immortal, so neither of us paid too much attention to our surroundings.

Throughout that summer, I would often study late into the night with my good friend and classmate Jon Panzer and then head over to my girlfriend's apartment. I would bring all my notes and study books with me to her apartment and then go to the review class in the morning.

My girlfriend had a roommate, and her roommate also had a boyfriend.  Since neither she nor her roommate knew who would be sleeping over when, they each got in the habit of closing their respective bedroom doors at night.  On this particular night, we knew her roommate wouldn't be coming home but we closed the bedroom door anyway. Force of habit.

At about 2:30 AM, my girlfriend shook me awake and whispered "someone's broken into the apartment".  As I started to tell her she was imagining it, I saw a light go on inside the apartment and heard several sets of footsteps. My heart jumped to my throat and my girlfriend whispered, "what should we do"?

All of us hope, my sweet daughter, that we will act courageously if and when that need ever arises. But I can tell you from experience that no amount of planning can prepare you for a moment like that. As I write you this letter some thirty years later, I am still embarrassed by the first thought that went through my mind. It was "please God, don't let them steal my bar review materials or I will fail the exam". I hope my former girlfriend can forgive me.

I put the absurdity of that thought out of my head and tried to think. Whoever was in there was making a lot of noise and we were both petrified with fear. In a whisper of my own, I asked my girlfriend if it was possible her roommate had come home, but she responded that her roommate was out of town. Besides, we could hear whoever was out there dismantling the stereo system, which I seriously doubted her roommate would be doing.

"Go out there and see what's going on", my girlfriend whispered to me.  Now I loved my girlfriend, but there was no way I was going out there. Whoever had broken in was not being at all quiet, and was taking their sweet time robbing the place to boot. To me that meant that either the burglars thought no one was home, in which case surprising them didn't seem like a good idea, or they didn't care if anyone was home, which seemed even worse.

I called 911. Now this was in the days before cell phones, and to make matters worse my girlfriend's apartment still had one of those old rotary phones.  So when I dialed 911 it sounded like machine gun fire. The 911 operator put me on hold. Then she hung up on me, hopefully by mistake. I kid you not.

I didn't dare try to dial again. So we lay in bed, no doubt silently praying, for what seemed like an eternity and was in reality about twenty minutes. At one point we heard the footsteps coming towards us, and we could see shadows by our bedroom door.  

They lingered there for a few seconds and then retreated. My girlfriend later told me that at that moment she was going to whisper to me that she loved me, but she had this vision that if she said that, the door would burst open and we would be killed. So she stayed silent.

At some point the sounds stopped.  We lay there for at least fifteen more minutes, and then I softly opened the bedroom door. The burglars were gone, and so were the stereo and everything else that wasn't nailed down.  Well, except for my study notes.  For some inexplicable reason those didn't interest the thieves. We called the police, who came and took a report, and then we went to Junior’s Deli to celebrate that we were still alive.

All of that raced through my head as I bolted downstairs. You and Peyton were huddled in the media room, where you had fallen asleep hours earlier watching a movie. "The bell on the alarm system chimed", you said. "There's a woman with her hands on her hips in your back yard." added Peyton.

Adrenalin pumping, I quickly scanned the downstairs and fortunately no one was there. The "woman with her hands on her hips" turned out to be a chair by the pool. And I was able to show you and Peyton that the alarm had been triggered by a set of French doors, still locked, which sometimes gets toggled by the wind. I hugged you both, and I told you that nothing bad will ever happen to you as long as your mom or I, or your older sisters, are with you. You gave me a kiss and the two of you went upstairs to bed. Before doing the same, I said a little prayer of thanks.

In truth, the notion that nothing bad can happen to you as long as you are with us is more a meditation than a certainty. But I'll keep saying it to you, and I'll make sure you keep believing it, and I would not hesitate to do whatever it took to will that prayer into reality.

Of course, a little luck and some divine providence wouldn't hurt either.

All my everlasting love,

Dad