How easy it is for most people to take life for granted. I was in the city today to see my doctor. It was pouring when I went, but I wore my coat with a hood attached and so I decided that I would walk the stretch from 34th Street and 8th Avenue to W. 19th and 6th. Long avenue blocks, for those who are familiar with New York City, but no big deal, one might say. Well, that all depends…
On the way back, I took a cab. It had stopped raining by then, but I was simply too tired to walk. I had a train to catch at Penn Station and needed to transfer at Jamaica Avenue. Again, really no big deal. Plenty of commuters do this daily.
If I wasn’t tired enough, we (the passengers) were asked to move to another car when the doors wouldn’t close at first and then wouldn’t open. It was a packed train, and there I was, schlepping my oxygen wheelie (a case that houses my portable oxygen tank) which I can’t leave home without. For without the help of oxygen being continuously pumped into my lungs, my oxygen intake level would fall far short of the required level for a body’s normal function, and my life would be jeopardized.
It was really hot on the train. I finally found a seat but had to stand up to remove my coat and then sit back down with my coat hanging over the wheelie. As I balanced my pocketbook on my lap, I tried to tuck the wheelie in front of me so that no one would trip over it. The motion tugged on my nasal cannula, making me acutely self-conscious of the plastic tubing that has become a part of my facial features. At that point I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In truth, I was fighting the tears that threatened to spill.
As I was getting ready to leave the train at the Jamaica station, there was a man standing in front of me. He must have picked up on my moody blues, because he suddenly said to me, “At least you’re breathing.” So I said, “You’re right.” And he offered, “At least it’s not snowing. It’s all how you look at things.”
We got out and I wasn’t sure which track I was supposed to be at for my train that would be coming in at any moment. Before I could ask someone, the same man spoke up again, ”The next train on this track is going to Far Rockaway.” Now how did he know where I was headed? “I’ll be going…” he then said and was gone in a flash.
He comes out of nowhere, just when I’m feeling totally sorry for myself, and stands there to tell me, “At least you’re breathing.” It was like G-d sending me a message – “it’s not so bad, there’s good in everything…”
It is written that Hashem’s chessed is infinite and we cannot see what is infinite, endless. We cannot accept Hashem’s endless kindness unless it is minimized, limited to the exact amount that a person can accept. (I just read this someplace.) Therefore Hashem brings the bad, the suffering and then the good, so that we can understand His chessed and be grateful and joyful for both. If we realize that the suffering is a tikkun for our sins or to bring us to Olam Haba, we would be joyful no matter what comes our way.
For years I’ve suffered with asthma and many seasonal bouts of pneumonia. One day several months ago, I felt I couldn’t breathe. It seemed that my lungs had taken a beating from the years-long ailments and medication to treat them. When told that I’d need to be on oxygen 24/7 for possibly six months, I was incredulous. After much testing and an eventual diagnosis of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it was extended to a year. A year?! How would I manage, I wondered.
Then there was talk of a lung transplant, and I thought, “Couldn’t I just get on with life attached to this oxygen contraption instead?”
It’s all how you look at things, the man said. I cannot allow self-pity to rule me, because everything is for the good. And G-d willing I will experience the good.
I just wanted to say to everyone out there, don’t take breathing for granted. It’s a gift that you should be extra grateful for every single morning when you awake and find that you are breathing on your own.
Thanks for listening. Please keep me in your prayers.
Frayda bas Sara
Dear Frayda bas Sara,
While wallowing in self-pity is futile, a good cry can be therapeutic as well as potent when directed heavenwards to our Father who understands our pain like no one else can. “Hashem hoshia HaMelech yaaneinu b’yom kareinu – G-d save! The King will answer us on the day we call.”
The midrash on the 20th psalm of Tehillim cites a parable of a mother who was angry with her daughter. But when her daughter was about to give birth and cried out in pain, her mother was there at her side crying along with her. Though we anger Hashem, He hearkens to us when we cry out in distress. What better proof of this than the miracle of Purim!
Your message is powerful. Who doesn’t take breathing for granted, and yet, every breath we take and every move we make is indeed miraculous and should give us pause — to take time out daily to communicate to our Maker our appreciation for His benevolence.
Despite our awareness that “everything is for the good,” we are human and things will get to us at times. You seem to be doing a great job keeping yourself together under difficult circumstances.
Your name in Yiddish means “happiness” — apropos for this month of Adar when our simcha intensifies due to Hashem’s annulment of our enemy’s evil designs. In the days of Mordechai and Esther the heavens opened up to intercept our cries and prayers, and thus the month of Adar is deemed a mazeldic time for Yidden everywhere.
May Hakadosh Baruch Hu have mercy upon all of His children who call on Him and depend on Him for their very life’s breath, and may He send you a complete refuah shelaima that will enable you to shed your excess baggage, as you continue to impart your message of strength and hope.
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