Over the past year I have had several wonderful conversations with my friend Paige about her Jewish faith. My journey is enhanced by incorporating the basic tenets of all three Abrahamic faiths: Jew, Islam, and Christian – along with a healthy dose of other traditions. Paige recently sent me a book Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Guide for Seekers by Arthur Green.
His first “best idea” is simhah or joy. I immediately thought of my past blogs inspired by the The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The five pages on joy by Green resonated with me on a very direct and applied level.
He tells the story of a Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav who struggled with simhah. Green writes (p. 6)
Don’t ignore your sadness, he taught, but chase it in order to transform it into happiness. He offered a parable that describes you, his reader, as a person in a roomful of dancers, but standing on the sidelines because our mood is too dark to let you enter the circle. Finally, someone grabs you by the hand . . . forcing you to join in the dance. As you warm up and begin to move, you notice your former sadness still standing back there on the side, looking somewhat disapprovingly at this new behavior and just waiting for you to stumble or feel self-conscious. The real task, says Rabbi Nahman, is to force that sadness itself into the circle and to make it dance, to see that it too is transformed into joy.
In my recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous I find that making a gratitude list each morning a tool that gives me an attitude of hope to start each day. I have consistently said that by living one day at a time as a recovering alcoholic for the past three decades has been excellent training for my life today with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
Something about Rabbi Green’s words struck a deeper core within me.
Yesterday, I was at the Touro Infirmary Infusion Center for my four hours of chemo, followed by wearing a chemo pump for the next 46 hours. I arrived home in a rather foul mood. What else could one expect while having poison pumped into their body? But consider Rabbi Nahman’s circle of dance where:
- one of the immediate benefits I always feel from chemotherapy is reduced pain – and this time is no exception. Before starting my current chemo regimen two weeks ago, I had perpetual stomach cramps – as I write this, I have no stomach pain.
- last night for supper my loving wife fixed me a grilled cheese sandwich, a food with a greater probability to “stay down” as the poison (specifically a cocktail called 5FU4) works its way through my system. The sandwich was delicious and perfectly suited my appetite. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit.
- my cancer diagnosis has brought me into a circle of dancers who have helped bring me to a peace that passes all understanding extending well beyond the manifestations of cancer.
- I thoroughly love that I have the energy and desire to work in my garden – which brings me tremendous happiness. Gardening is very life affirming for me. I have taken to saying that so long as I plant a garden in the spring, I cannot die until everything is harvested. Given our nearly year-round crop cycles here in New Orleans, that belief may prove to be as effective as my chemotherapy treatment!
- Today is Mardi Gras. In 1975, Mardi Gras was filled with darkness, despair, and a two-day blackout. Although I will only listen to the parades from our house today, I am able to participate in the circle of dance that is carnival here in New Orleans. Quoting Bob Dylan “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.”
This list can go on and on. Simhah teaches me to fully participate in the dance of happiness, walking this earth for one more day, created in the image of God.