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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Drip Drip Drippin’ on Heaven’s Door

Child-with-cancer

Some songs stick with you for life.

Songs that bring back a flood of memory, emotion and tears from that one time you heard them in a particularly memorable context.

For me, one such song is Ana Bekoach, arranged and sung by Ovadia Hamama.



As Rav Yehuda Amital z”l used to say, “You must sing a nigun again and again, for only then will it drip, drip, drip into your soul.”

***

We were about to begin another sort of drip, drip, drip with our 12-year-old son, Gilad.

In September 2007, just before Sukkot, a CT scan had revealed a golf-ball-size growth pressing on his small intestine. This had completely blocked the passages, causing him to lose about 15 lbs in 12 days and to vomit anything he tried to eat. It actually reached the stage where he was vomiting green bile.

We were worried. To see your little boy suffering and thinning away day by day, to sense the doctors hesitating to commit to any diagnosis and to conjure up horrific scenarios that all begin with c and end in r.

Our tension rose on Shabbat Chol Hamoed, as the team at Hadassah Har HaTzofim removed the growth, cutting away part of Gilad’s intestine in the process and reattaching the two ends (apparently, the Creator gave us some slack on our intestines – we can live just fine with a few centimeters missing).

We had a week or so to wait for the pathology results as Gilad recovered from the operation. The surgeon and other doctors had expressed optimism and we were happy to defer to their expertise. They were wrong.

The Wednesday after Sukkot, October 10, we were summoned to the Pediatric Hema-Oncology Department at Hadassah Ein Karem, where the Head of Department, Dr. Mickey Weintraub, informed us of the pathology results: Stage 3 abdominal Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

Burkitt’s, although a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is very curable. However, because it is very aggressive and spreads quickly, the chemo also had to be aggressive and intensive.

We had no time to lose.

First thing next day we were back there for another operation, this time to implant a Hickman Line into Gilad’s chest (a device making it easier to take blood and administer chemotherapy without constantly pricking and poking needles into him), with the first round of chemo to start on Sunday.

It had all happened very quickly, with no time to process the maelstrom of emotions swirling around in my mind. Shock, denial, disbelief, sadness, panic, worry, helplessness, depression, despair, hope, faith, determination, prayer…

Thoughts and nightmares, drip drip drippin’ on Heaven’s door.

I don’t think I ever doubted Gilad would be okay… but of course you can never be sure. Every single miniscule drop of every single chemical, with the exact dosage, has to find its way to exactly the right even-more-miniscule cell at precisely the right time. And all the drips and drops have to work together to kill off any possibility of cancerous cell replication.

However sensitive, skilled and experienced the doctors and nurses may have been, that wasn’t entirely in their hands.

But all that was still ahead of us.

Back to that Thursday night.

After the shock and the running around for bureaucracy’s sake and the operation and the family-and-friends-telling and the phone calls and the emails, I felt a burning need to get away from it all. To slow down. Solitude. Silence.

At onement.

So once we were home – and my wife and kids were all talking in the lounge – I grabbed one of my other kid’s MP3s (a small red one now well out of vogue), opened the back door and, after closing it, went outside to the yard.

It was dark already, a warmish autumn evening hosting a gentle breeze. I heard the slight rustle of the leaves on the bush strangling the fence between us and the Cohens. A car drove by.

Sighing, and not quite sure what was about to happen, I took one of our dirty green plastic Keter chairs off the pile of six, wiped off the dust with my hand and placed the chair to face the hills overlooking the Dead Sea. I looked up to the stars in the clear night sky, took a deep breath, sat down, gingerly placed the earphones in my ears and pressed the on button.

Ana bekoach, g’dulat yemincha, tatir tz’rura
Please, by the great power of Your right hand, set the captive free

I closed my eyes and began to sway back and forth, trying to focus on the words, the sounds… anything to halt the thoughts and worry disco rocking in my mind.

Kabel rinat amcha sagveinu, tahareinu nora
Revered God, accept Your people’s prayer; strengthen us, cleanse us

The song finished (after 6 minutes 17 seconds) and I just played it again.

Na gibor dorshei yichudcha, k’vavat shamrem
Almighty God, guard us as the apple of the eye of those who seek You

And again.

And again.

And again.

The more I listened, the more thoughts, fears, tears and prayers welled up inside me.

How will Gilad cope? Please don’t make him suffer too much… he’s so young… he can’t die… Dr Mickey says there’s a 96% success rate…please make it happen… but what if? There are too many variables… What about the rest of the kids? How will they manage? What’s going to happen with my work? Rachel’s? How will the money come in? … visions of a thanksgiving party, my hesped at his funer… Chas VeShalom! “I lift up my eyes unto the Heavens. From whence will my help come?”

Barchem taharem, rachamei tzidkatcha tamid gamlem
Bless them, cleanse them, pity them; ever grant them Your truth

And again.

And again.

And again.

The tears were pouring down my face, my handkerchief was saturated and I was oblivious to leaves, cars, stars or anything else.

Maybe even to myself.

Inexplicably, magically, it seemed that this mesmerizing melody was gradually trickling its way into the darkest depths of my troubled soul.

Drip, drip, drip.

Chasin kadosh berov tuvcha, nahel adatecha
Mighty, holy God, in Your abundant grace, guide Your people

Until, at some stage, it finally eroded the last layer of resistance.

My mind stopped getting in the way.

No more maudlin, muddling thoughts. No more depressing visions. No more pain, panic or pressure.

Yachid ge’eh le’amcha p’neh, zochrei k’dushatecha
Unique and proud one, turn to Your people, who remember Your holiness

I just stopped interfering and allowed the music, the words, the rhythm, the meaning to flow and seep down and down, note by note, chord by chord, line by line, into my most primordial, purest soul.

Drip, drip, drip.

Shavateinu kabel ushma tza’akateinu, yode’a ta’alumot
You who know secret thoughts, accept our prayer, hear our cry

Everything was going to be okay.

***

I have no idea how long I was out there or how many times I replayed the song but I knew it had done what it was supposed to do.

I turned off the MP, returned the chair to the pile and went back indoors, eyes red but smiling with surety. Revived, calmed, soothed, refreshed.

Cleansed.

Baruch shem k’vod malchuto le’olam va’ed
Blessed be the name of His glorious majesty forever and ever

Author’s note: Baruch Hashem, Gilad is now a fit and healthy 18-year-old.

About the Author: Daniel Verbov specializes in writing and producing beautifully crafted legacy books, transmitting a family's history, values and messages to their future generations. You can contact him at dverbov@legacy-live.com


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