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October 16, 1987 - Image 95

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-16

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INSIGHT

A Matter Of The Heart

A serious illness _can frighten
one to death and to life

HAROLD SCHULWEIS

Special to The Jewish News

ome attribute the statement tc
Santayana, others to Einstein: "We
cannot know who first cliscoverec
water, but we can be sure it was not the
fish:' Why not the fish? Because water iL
all about them; they breathe it, taste it,
swim in it. For them, water is too obvious
to be noticed. Could it be that only when
they are caught in the fisherman's net,
trembling, gasping for air, the revelation
occurs to them?
Water is life. Water is our life.
We humans are born into life. It is in us,
in our being. It pulsates in our veins. We
sleep and rise up into life; and often we are
late, sometimes too late, to discover it. In
our infantile omnipotence, we take our im-
mortality as given. To those who, like the
fish, take their life support system for
granted, the powerful biblical reminder —
"therefore, choose life that you shall live"
is addressed.
When we are removed from the vital
source of our energy, when we tremble,
gasp for air, flail about wildly to grab at
a straw of life, then it is that we catch a
glimpse of the miracle of breathing, seeing,
touching, hearing, smelling, feeling. In ex-
tremis, old sayings, cliched greetings —
"zei gesunt," "l'chayim" — sound profound
truths.

S

Surrounded by catheters and monitors
and masks and needles, faced with the real
possibility of my incapacitation and my
death, I am jolted by transforming reve-
lations. Fear and trembling are fierce in-
structors of the human spirit. "Do you not
know that there comes a midnight hour
when we must unmask? Do you suppose
that life will forever suffer itself to be
treated as a joke? Do you suppose that one
can slip out a little before the midnight
hour?" (Soren Kierkegaard)
"Every man is a child and pain is his
teacher." (Alfred de Musset). Out of
sickness and pain and fear, prayers once
mechanically recited, benedictions
mindlessly chanted, take on a new
pertinence.
"Make you a new heart and a new spirit;
for why will you die." (Ezekiel 18:31). I hear
with new ears, I see with new eyes this
prayer I have recited from my childhood:

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS 87

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