On Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at about 6:30 PM I received a phone call informing me that I had lung cancer. Needless to say, I went into shock. I spent the next the next 48 hours trying to:
manage my anxiety
decide who I absolutely had to tell ASAP
trying to reassure myself that such a diagnosis was not a death sentence
waiting for follow-up instructions on what doctors and treatments awaited me
While davening (praying) on my first Shabbat with the knowledge that I had a potentially lethal disease, I experienced the kind of epiphany a person of faith may be blessed with:
“GOD DIDN’T PUT ME IN THIS WORLD TO HAVE CANCER!”
God put me in this world so that every Monday I can teach and inspire the dozen or so inmates who regularly show-up for my classes on Judaism at the Ohio State Prison, London Correctional Institution
God put me in this world so that on Tuesdays I can engage a group of sweet senior adults in a discussion about Jewish current events at the assisted living facility, Creekside at the Village, Wexner Heritage Village.
God put me in this world so that on Thursdays I can put a smile on the faces of some of the hundreds of kids I encounter as a volunteer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
God put me in this world so I could continue my work as a Jewish educator, a writer and political activist who is committed to social justice, not to mention my daily efforts to be the kind of mensch my family, friends, community and Creator can be proud of.
God didn’t give me cancer and it wasn’t God’s responsibility to protect me from getting cancer. Second only to family and friends, God will be my partner and life coach in surviving cancer. After all, God needs me as much as I need God.
Learning that you have a serious a life threatening challenge ahead of you is not the moment at which people of faith hit the panic button and ask why me? It’s the exact moment at which years of celebrating God’s love and blessings ultimately blossom into the kind of incredible spiritual strength and optimism that makes recovery inevitable and life a joy and privilege to be savored under all circumstances.
The story is told that as the Romans (first Century C.E.) were flaying the flesh of the great Rabbi Akiba with an iron comb as punishment for teaching Torah, he recited the Sh’ma aloud and reminded his followers that faith is ultimately about having the capacity to love God at every moment in life.
It’s showtime folks. My cancer is going to bring out the best in me, promise.
I thought this commercial from Thailand summed up how I have come understand my role in this world.