It's 12:02 AM. I took NyQuil and still can't sleep. I'm tossing and turning with the heat on high and the humidifier on low. I have more NyQuil sitting on the windowsill by my bed, should I wake up after 5AM and still feel feverish. Last I checked, the thermometer read 100.6. This is one tenth of a degree hotter than last night's temperature. I am on night four of what I can only assume is one case of the flu pandemic everyone keeps talking about (despite having received a flu shot months ago). I have spent most of the day watching episodes of Glee (increasingly disappointing) and The Office (always hilarious), with a brief break to try translating some of Exodus 17—I made it through a verse and a half before my brain gave up. More than the physical discomfort, I am bored. I have barely left the house. I am tempted to post something whiny on Facebook to get pity and attention but I resist.
Most days, I pray. These past few days, I have been in such a daze between the fever and the doses of dizzying cold medication that I have not felt up for it. Through the mind muddle, I remember a teaching that one should not approach God in prayer when drunk. While there is no alcohol in my system, it feels like there may as well be and I wonder what the teaching would say about praying while febrile. Today, I manage to pray for the first time and davven mincha—the shortest of the daily services. My mind has trouble focusing and I stumble over some of the words. I make it through the prayer for healing without even realizing I have recited it. My heart is not in this prayer. I finish all the required sections and collapse back in my papason chair that I have been camped out in for days, feeling bad for praying without kavannah, without directing my heart towards HaShem. I feel worn out and useless.
I then think about the piece of liturgy that I found most inspiring when I began praying again as an adult—the section of prayer about gratitude, Hoda'ah, that is part of the Amidah, which I had just clumsily read.
“We acknowledge you, declare your praise, and thank you for our lives entrusted in your hand, our souls placed in your care, for your miracles that greet us every day, and for your wonders and the good things that are with us every hour, morning, noon, and night. Good One, whose kindness never stops, Kind One, whose loving acts have never failed—always have we placed our hope in you1.”
I begin to think about the “miracles that greet us every day.” Even in this moment of blech, what are the miracles that are greeting me today? I am grateful for my roommate who ran out and picked up hot soup for me. I am grateful for my classmate who sent me her notes from the class I missed. I am grateful to have shelter and medication and the numerous privileges that have made this possible. I am grateful for an otherwise healthy body and a strong immune system. I am grateful for the exciting news a friend emailed me today about his life. I am grateful for the clerk at the store who helped me find the right tea the other day. I am grateful that both my parents have been checking in on me and said it was no big deal that I scraped the side of their car that I borrowed (nothing like having to confess to damaging your parents' car and having the flu to make you feel infantilized). I am grateful that I have health insurance and more seltzer in the fridge. I am grateful I can think clearly enough to express gratitude.
I begin to feel better. Still gross. Still running a fever. Still a snotty mess of a human. And also better. I feel grateful for these blessings and I remind myself that this flu, and all the things that I am grateful for, are temporary. I ease back into my chair, have another sip of tea, and start what is bound to be another disappointing episode of Glee, only this time, a little closer to God.
1Translation from Kol HaNeshema: Shabbat Vehagim, Third Edition, The Reconstructionist Press, Jenkintown, PA 2009
(Photo used with permission by author.)
Alex Weissman is a community organizer, performer, and rabbinical student. In addition to his rabbinical studies, he works as a hospice chaplain and a mentor to teenagers involved in multifaith dialogue. He has worked with Jewish and queer communities over the last ten years around issues of HIV/AIDS, domestic workers' rights, substance use, partner abuse, and queer youth homelessness. He believes deeply in sacred listening as a practice for healing, building relationships, and pursuing justice. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Alex has returned after ten years away to attend the Reconstrucionist Rabbinical College.