The Choice

by Chana Klein

"Why is God doing this to me?" I would ask myself with each new catastrophe. I tried so hard. Yet they kept on coming (the catastrophes.) "Why do I have so many difficulties?"

I read in one of those self help books: "You can choose each morning whether you will be happy or sad for that day. It is a choice." Wasn't I a victim of my circumstances? Wasn't I not in control of whatever happened to me no matter how much I wanted control? I even noticed that the more I tried to be in control, the less control I had. How could l feel okay in the midst of all this? How could it be a choice?

As I look back at some of my life catastrophes, I see that I did make choices on how I saw what was going on. When another person would look at my life situation, I imagine that it would appear to them to be a difficult time. But in the midst of the pain, often in retrospect, the goodness of the situation shined through when I chose to see it.

One of my first realizations of this was when I was in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital for a year. I was given a prognosis of likely having to lose my left leg. I was in a body cast for the first 6 months with very few visitors. Sounds pretty awful, no? But in reality, that had been the best year of my childhood up to that point. I remember it with great gratitude. I remember each nurse, some of the doctors and I even remember Luciano, who came to my room everyday to empty the garbage and sweep the floor. Luciano appeared to have three elbows on the left arm and his skeleton had points and bends in unusual places. His slim stature was bent over to one side. Luciano was kind to me each day and I was kind to him. I remember his sweetness always.

I looked at Luciano and I preferred my own challenges over having the challenge of looking like he did. I imagine he looked at me, a 10 year old lying in a body cast for so many months, with no family visitors, and he probably would not have wanted to change places with me either. Even now, I am sure that people who look at me and notice my use of crutches would not want to change places with me. Several people at the ICF conference I attended last week, whom I did not even know, came up to me just to tell me how difficult it must be for me to get from place to place in the huge conference center. Of course, in that situation I would not have wanted to change places with them either. I know there is no way any one of the people there could keep up with me. I have to use crutches to walk. But I have framed them in my life so that they are an advantage and allow me to do what others cannot, like fly through the street doing a half mile in three and a half minutes. We have our limitations. But within those limitations, we can transcend. It's different for each of us.

So with such huge challenges we all face, how could it be a choice of how to feel?

When I first got to my bed in the hospital, after the first surgery, I was not able to speak or smile. The nurses kept cheerfully talking to me at the foot of my bed and I was unable to respond to them. Once I was able to appreciate their attention, they would laugh with me about my previous non-reaction. I had been in the darkness. I did not think of the fact that I had a choice about how I could feel. I imagine that I eventually made a choice. I could have chosen to continue in the darkness that surrounded me. But after some time, I chose to see it as light.

To most people being in a hospital bed for endless days and months would seem like a terrible thing. For me it was the best thing for me at that time. My long stay in the hospital changed my life direction. The hospital was for me an environment free of bad influences, free of beatings, free of hate and rejection. No one there rejected me. They all gave me love, the nurses, the doctors, the other patients. I was truly happy living in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital.

We can each take our personal darkness and show ourselves and the world that God exists. Who I am and what I do can transcend human logic and reasoning. That is one of the reasons we as a people are so persecuted in the world, because it doesn't make sense what we accomplish. What I do, what you do, changes each of us personally and also changes the world. The world is different because each of us is here. How we face each challenge is so important. Dr. Levine told me, often, during that year in the hospital, that because the circulation in my hip and leg had stopped (necrosis), he had to remove one third of my left thigh bone. I would never again, he told me, be able to weight bear on that leg.

I discovered that we can transcend limitations. Four years later, my legs were the same length. And the first steps I took were not to walk. They were to run. I had been living in a Home for Girls, where my wheelchair was placed under one of the sinks in the long row to wash in the morning. A pipe leaked scalding hot water onto my leg and it was so shocking that I got up and ran across the bathroom. The whole room became silent. No one moved. The girls' mouths were hanging open. They all recognized the transcendence. It stopped them cold.

Everyone in the world sees how we transcend limitations. That is what Chanukah is all about. But really we do that all year. We walk to the beat of a Heavenly Drummer and sometimes, we run!


Copyright © 2010 COPYRIGHT CHANA KLEIN. All rights reserved.

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