I prayed my heart out on Yom Kippur.
Since Toby got sick, I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with God. On good days, I understand that God didn’t send this disease. On bad days I rail against God’s silence. And most days I feel a tremendous loss in my connection to God.
I haven’t been able to pray on my own. And so on Yom Kippur, I went to synagogue, in search of my community, in search of warmth, in search of a space where I could have a talk with God. I chanted the melodies and let my soul be lifted by the beauty of ritual. I felt myself enter the lines of text, winding through the letterforms like the paths of a most beautiful garden.
It was during the amidah that I felt myself open up to the possibility of something. So I covered my face with the prayerbook and let God know how I felt. When I came up for air, Yoni remarked that I had tattooed the book with my tears.
What happened next surprised me.
As is customary, the ark remains open during the entire concluding service of ne’ilah. But at PSJC there’s a wonderful opportunity for families, couples and individuals to ascend the bimah during this time, to share a moment alone/together in front of the open ark and Torah scrolls. For more than an hour, I watched as the ark became a shaftway to God. Again and again, parents wrapped themselves around their children, whispering their wishes and prayers and dreams. Couples embraced, hands reached out to touch the scrolls. It was pure theater and I watched hungrily, with joy and sadness. Personal became public and intimacy crowded out every other feeling in my heart.
I desperately wanted to be one of the families hugging each other in the sweep of narrative, history and hope.
In many ways uncertainty has crowded out intimacy in our lives. We wake up each day, unsure of what will happen by evening. And this morning, for the first time in a long while, I can unequivocally say that Stephen and I feel hopeless.
Yesterday we met with Dr. Kushner, to discuss the much-anticipated next phase of treatment: 3f8 antibodies. After 6 cycles of high-dose, highly toxic chemotherapy and after 14 rounds of radiation to Toby’s shoulder, we are ready to move on. Toby still has refractory disease, but some children do go into antibody therapy without being completely “clean.”
Instead we heard more bad news. Although most of the scans came back stable, one of the bone marrow aspirates showed neuroblastoma cells. This is very, very unusual and Kushner is uncomfortable giving Toby antibodies at this stage. He would like to do a 7th cycle of chemotherapy, in a final, super-aggressive, off-the-charts attempt to kill the cells in the marrow. He admitted that MSK doesn’t do this often. He admitted that Toby is highly unusual. And he admitted that he doesn’t have much data to show whether this will be an effective course of treatment.
We still have a lot of unanswered questions and are unsure what our next steps will be. My brother will most likely post some of the medical details over the next few days.
Intimacy is what makes me feel human, but it is uncertainty that sits on all our shoulders. Yoni worries, asks a million questions, demands the whole truth with no sugar coating. Stephen and I open a bottle of wine at 5 pm, walk to the corner together and stand in the middle of the sidewalk as the tears fall. Toby senses the vibrations of uncertainty and cannot sleep. Last night I lay in bed with him after he told me that he was nervous and scared. I reminded him to think of good things: Randy and the whoopee cushion, the mango smoothies at Lonelyville, harvesting a potato in Prospect Park. But he cried and said, “the bad things are too big, Mommy.” Over and over I tell him that everything will be alright, We curl up together and see the moon through the blinds. It’s a full moon, full with experience and life and quiet. Toby eventually fell asleep.
And today we blink into the wide gaping hole of a new day, heavy in our hearts, craving intimacy for our family.
We ask again for your support, presence and love. You have done so much for us already that I hesitate to ask again. I will never be able to write all the thank-yous for the beautiful, thoughtful gifts, the delicious meals, the blood, the money, the letters and visits. Please forgive me. And know that through you, we can experience life as it should be.
Love, mooki and stephen
Ed Clark, Christmas Guest
7 months ago