I climbed into the
ambulance behind the stretcher and thought: Oh, God; today is the day I am
going to become a widow.
My husband had collapsed
at work. His consciousness and cognition were scrambled. He didn’t know where
he was and could not identify the year. His colleagues were white-faced and the
paramedics looked grim.
I should have taken him to Italy instead of saving for retirement, I thought. And why did I have to yell at him all the time for leaving his shoes in the hallway?
I stroked his face, looked
into his eyes and lied. I told him everything would be okay.
But then, a mere few hours
later, it was. His cognition returned. The ominous medical tests came back
negative. The physicians cheerfully returned a rare diagnosis of global
transient amnesia. A brain fart, if you will. Duration: two to 24 hours. Cause:
unknown. Chance of recurrence: virtually none.
Lasting effects: nil.
Except an acute lesson for
me, leading into the High Holidays, of both how frail and how resilient human
beings are, and how fleeting and precious are our lives.
I have responded with
equal measures of gratitude and panic.
In the week since Joel
returned home, I have not been myself. I jump every time the phone rings. I
have forgotten my keys, a hair appointment, where I parked my car. And I count
the days to Rosh HaShanah with equal measures of awe and trembling. I am so
keenly aware, now, of all that I have to lose.
Nothing gold can stay, the
poet promised, and his words haunt me this year. The self-help books have it
all wrong. A midlife crisis isn’t about facing our own mortality. It’s about
facing the mortality of the ones we love the most.
Perhaps this is why people
set new goals for themselves, embarking on new challenges and adventures. You
reinvent your world as well as yourself when you earn another degree, learn a foreign
language or master a new skill. It’s a way for us to force ourselves to move
forward instead of clinging to every sign post—and loved one—in our path.
This is agonizing for me,
because I am both a sentimental fool and a creature of habit. My husband and I
have lived in the same house for 25 years and shopped at the same local
businesses. I have shoes older than my adult daughter. I still have friends
from grade school.
But over the years, my
neighborhood dry cleaners, grocery store and favorite local restaurants have
folded, one by one. Shoe styles have changed. Many of my friends have moved.
So today I am forging
different shopping routines, buying new shoes, making new friends—and learning
I am trying to head into the new year with a heart that is open and new, too.
And I’ve started planning to take my husband on that trip to Italy.