A Brush with Death During the Days of Awe

The Days of Awe for Jews are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur  and they’re still lingering on my mind. But Penny, you wrote a blog for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, what more could you have to say…

During these days according to our tradition, God records in a book (great symbolism for a writer), who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. Of course we all would be grateful to find our names in the right book. I feel like my name was given particular notice…

We were on the way to our beloved writing class. I had my usual carpooler, and another writing friend. I was particularly excited because I had class comments to pick up on two chapters from my book, Blasted from Complacency and another to turn in. As I finalize my last chapters, it’s getting more exciting. Not only because that’s how the events unfolded on our trip to Israel when we found ourselves exploring wondrous sites, and cowering in more and more bomb shelters — but because in a few weeks my first draft will actually be done!

That night all three of us, myself, Jane and Lisa (not their real names), were turning in our latest chapters. Jane is part of my usual freeway posse, Lisa is not. I met her initially when she showed up at my Writers4Writers support group and I was going on about how much I loved the class. She tried it, thought it beneficial, and now she was our classmate.

Something special about Lisa is that she has Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), most of us have heard of it as brittle bone disease. It is a genetic disorder with constraints such as short height, loose joints and other symptoms, although I’d say the scariest is having bones that are easy to break. However, the most extraordinary characteristic about Lisa, is her spirit. With tears in my eyes as I read her weekly submissions about her life growing up with this crippling disease, I know she was put on this earth to inspire. Her thrilling antics would challenge anyone — from ski trips to sailing, and I’m sure she must have some spiritual body parts most often attributed to the male species : ) Her job is as a children’s pastor and what an example she sets for those kids who are lucky enough to be in her class. I know some day when her memoir is finished, many others will have the opportunity to be embolded as well. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll see her story in a movie theatre.

Once she explained to me how to fold up her wheelchair (happily only twelve pounds), and I unceremoniously piled it in the back of my car (glad she didn’t see the clumsy battle), we were off to class.

Jawing about our latest happenings, we zipped down the 241 at 65 miles an hour. The toll road was moving along great until it wasn’t, and stopped suddenly. Why? I still don’t know. I was able to stop in time, the twenty-five year old kid behind me wasn’t. BAM!! We felt the jolting, full-speed impact as his Honda Civic crunched into a mangled accordion.

“Are you o.k.?” I asked both my passengers feeling the bruised twinge in my sore knee and shin that had hit the dashboard. “I’m o.k.,” Jane said.

“How about you, Lisa?” I said in a panic. Lisa was in the middle backseat, closest to the collision. Maybe the fact the third seat had been folded down horizontally buffered her, I don’t know.

“I’m o.k. too,” she said to my astonishment.

“Are you sure? I asked again wondering if her bones could break from feeling the force of the impact without any apparent physical contact. Would she even know with surety if she hadn’t suffered any injury? I didn’t know what was going on with me, and I didn’t have her medical complications. She responded, “Yes,” and I moved on.

I bolted, well more like scurried from my car to check on who had hit me, feeling the pain from the bruise that was beginning to grow on my knee and shin who had brutally greeted the dashboard abruptly when our vehicles collided.

The missile that plowed into us was viciously contorted, its hood thrust upward pointing to the sky, indecently exposing its gasping engine. The young, male driver was slumped over his steering wheel and the air bag had been deployed. He seemed hurt and his eyes looked stunned. In truth, I also was shocked and moving on adrenaline.

“How are you?” I asked seeing that he looked bewildered but I was relieved, I didn’t see any signs of gore.

“I don’t feel great, but I think it’s from the airbag,” he said sounding in pain.

Seeing his dazed condition, I hurried as fast as my aching leg would allow and yelled to my friends, “Call 911!” By the time I rushed back to him, he was calling 911, too.

He got out of his sedan and stumbled unsurely toward me asking, “Are you o.k.?”

“Yes,” I said, “And my passengers seem to be fine too.” I told him I thought everyone was doing as well as could be expected and asked again how he was feeling. “O.K.,” he mumbled and next I knew, he was pushing his car out of traffic’s way to the side of the road.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked amazed he had just moved his car by himself. As his stupor unfroze he said, I’m so sorry!” with so much anguish, the mom in me kicked in and I said, “I know, it was an accident. That’s why they make the bumper sticker sh-t happens,” and couldn’t help myself and reached out and gave him a hug.

He was worried his Dad was going to be angry, it was his car. Within a few minutes he already had his insurance man on the phone. A tow truck was on its way.

My mom mobile, sheltered us, and took one for the gipper. For the most part, her passengers were safe and she had taken the brunt of the impact. Thankfully the only deaths from this crash, was both our cars. It was a miracle.

A couple good Samaritans who had stopped came hurrying over asking if everyone was alright. I was happy to respond we were shaken, but fine. The world seemed so much kinder than what’s in the news.

The cops showed up, saw no one was bleeding, and that we had already exchanged the required information. They said we were free to go. My car at this point looked damaged, but drivable. Only days later we discovered the chassis had been shoved in so far, it could not be repaired.

So what’s a writer to do? We headed for class, late of course, and very thankful to be alive.

I called my husband to let him know what happened, wanting to hear his voice. I assured him I was a little banged up, but to no one’s surprise continuing on to class.

Our beloved teacher hearing about why we were late, asked me to explain what had happened. Some of my classmates more impervious to our teacher’s spell exclaimed, “Gee, I would have gone home.” But I thought, never underestimate the determination of an author who is going to receive feedback on her latest chapters.

However, it was more than turning in my chapter or picking up the prior weeks’ results. I was driving toward friends who actually cared enough about my work of love to go over each word weekly and offer their honest opinion, helping improve my writing. I’ll always be appreciative of their efforts and kindness.

As I dropped off Lisa at her door that night, she gently hovered her hand over my knee and said a prayer.  I felt truly blessed. I wondered if she’d ever catch a ride with me again…I knew she loved adventure, but really?

My husband came outside to greet me as the garage door was still going up. It felt reassuring in his arms and the tears began to flow…

The next day my primary care physician sent me to urgent care because it was an accident — the insurance debacle had begun. The physician’s assistant, confirmed by the radiologist, told me I had a fractured femur, there’s a little bone in the wrong place. Elevate it, stay off of it as much as possible, use ice several times a day, and always use crutches.

The crutches were the worst part. My body apparently being between notch adjustments caused me either to swing precariously like an inept monkey or at the other setting, the crutch rests bore into my armpits causing what felt like more pain than my injuries.

I wondered how on Yom Kippur, our most holy day, I was going to be able to perform the temple honor assigned to me weeks before. It was the first time I had been asked to lead a responsive reading and it was the last prayer prior to blowing the shofar. My acknowledgement was for volunteering at temple. My most personally cherished contribution was for my son’s and my recycling project that we’ve run there since he was five.

He had come home on Earth Day from the temple’s kindergarten and said, “Mommy I want to save the world!” I wanted to encourage his heart-felt proclamation. We started collecting bottles and cans at various locations, but primarily the temple, and the money raised went to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. Perspective is essential — what most people see as trash, has been turned into good for people and the planet. It’s provided over 18,000 meals thus far in Orange County. He was asked to help “dress” the Torah, in honor of his work. I was so proud to see him be acknowledged for his impassioned idea and efforts through the years, his compassion clearly showing even at his young age.

I had been excited when I received the request — reviewing the prayer, many parts seemed to speak my language. 

The prayer, “For the Sound of the Shofar” began with, As the Sabbath of Sabbaths ends, we say from the heart…I try to live my life from my heart through the love of people in my life today, from the past, and those I’ve never even met. Keeping in mind gratitude for who I am today and the evolving person I’ll be tomorrow — acknowledging the change we go through each second that we’re privileged to live on this Earth.

The reading immediately followed the meditation. Meditation is the sacred way I begin my days — amongst the trees at our local nature park.

I had been preparing myself at Toastmasters for speaking engagements once my book comes out next year. The fact I had been practicing with my Toastmaster buddies, was the only way I could have been able to deliver my part of the service. Although, I was used to twelve people at our meetings, not hundreds. Thankfully, I only had to read it and not memorize the lines. I knew I would survive, but the nerves still lingered.

It was an honor to recite those timeless words, Sh’ma, Yisrael…

I had to laugh. The prayer seemed to fit even down to including our family’s love of Star Trek… From beyond time and space,

How was I going to manage the bema (stage) stairs to enjoy my mitzvah? I hoped it would still be possible.

To my delight, the following day, the orthopedic surgeon said my leg was only bruised and I didn’t have to use crutches. Amen. But why the disparity of opinions amongst medical professionals? I still don’t know. However, I am following up on that and other medical questions.

It was the night of Yom Kippur and with all of the tumult, I wanted to rest my leg. We opted to stay home. To my pleasure, my Facebook alerted me that the services were online. From the comfort of my couch, I was able to enjoy the full ceremony recuperating while reclining : ) I listened to our cantor, friends with amazing voices and choir sing the familiar prayers and melodies and watched friends help lead services. The rabbi gave his sermon and I felt like he was speaking directly to me touching my personal beliefs.

The next day we drove to the synagogue. As always I enjoyed socializing with many temple members as we made our way to our seats. Some were very close friends — family that you choose. A number of them had been honored for their dedicated work by sitting on the bima — I was proud to call them my friends.

I noticed a fellow congregant whose son had recently passed sitting alone, and asked her to sit with our family. A tragedy betraying the natural order of things, our kids aren’t supposed to die before their parents. I pray that with each passing day her gaping wound will begin to mend, yet I know it will never heal.

I was comforted sitting next to my husband of twenty years and my son, a sanctuary, within our sanctuary. I was grateful to sit with a friend and her daughter who had gone on our trip to Israel with us and another teenage friend and her father, while her mother sang in the choir. The kids took the opportunity to catch up before the ceremony began. During afternoon services my son choose to sit with another life-long friend. No problem, although I also felt a twinge aching my heart. Next year would he even be able to come home from college to go to synagogue with us?

One incredibly generous family who has supported our synagogue for years, financially challenged fellow members by matching each dollar raised, by three. Wow.

During the service there were a couple unique opportunities to be blessed by the rabbi. She asked for people to come up to be blessed if you had had an assortment of calamities including serious illness, an accident, or strangely, if you’d been in jail. I was thankful to be blessed for surviving the accident, and also for not having had anything to do with wearing stripes in a cell.

Later the rabbi asked for people to come up to be blessed who were going to have a special life transition in the coming year. I smiled as my son, approached the bima joined by a number of his friends, who next year would be off to college plodding their own life journeys. Where he would attend or how his path would unfold only time would tell, but I was glad for him to have additional spiritual armor to protect him along the way.

Looking around I saw a number of friends who were coming to grips with being empty nesters for the first time. One after dropping off her son, posted a before and after picture on Facebook. First smiling with pride, trying to hide her angst, with her arm around her young son dropping him off in the dorm room. Later, at home, prostrated face down on the floor of her carpet. Oey, the bitter sweetness soon would also be upon us. As my wise friend reminded us who had been down this path three previous times, this is what we raised them to do…

As the sun was setting and the shofar blowers were encouraged to head onto the bima, I was delighted to see one of our long-time, teenage friends  She has grown up with my son, and she too will soon be off to college. Besides her intellectual brilliance, her passion is music. Her dream is to be a high school band teacher — lucky students! She plays many instruments from the ancient ocarina, to her favorite, the trombone. Her musical resume is a knockout filled with personally achieved awards, award-winning music competitions and festivals, musical organizations she belongs to and instrumental study. I shouldn’t forget to mention, she’s a really nice person too.

So with the enthusiasm, lungs, and expertise of a talented teenager, she trumpeted in the New Year by blowing the shofar far longer than any other congregant to the amazement and appreciative applause of the congregation.

Afterward, we were invited to enjoy break fast by another long-time friend. Beyond ending the fast, I was thrilled to speak with so many mutual friends. A welcoming and loving way to begin the New Year.

I sat privately for a while at the piano, as my cherished friend, the choir mother of our musical phenom quietly shared with me her heartfelt melodies she had written — versions of Oseh Shalom (A Prayer for Peace) — also near to my heart.

I chatted with my friend’s sister who was eagerly waiting the birth of her new grandson. She would be leaving for Israel as soon as she knew when the bris would be. Her daughter and son-in-law, both from Los Angeles, had chosen to make Israel their home. They would soon begin to raise another Israeli generation starting off the New Year with a joyous addition to their family…

If you want to know why we belong to our temple and believe it is where we are supposed to be, please  reread. If you believe anyone would enjoy reading my story, please share it with them.

As you can see, although the end of the year may have not ended the way I might have predicted, nor parts the way I would have chosen, it did leave me feeling extremely grateful and blessed. May you too be blessed with a joyous and fulfilling New Year.

Shabbat Shalom,

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