It was a momentous day for the young people, gathered at the Marriott hotel. They would soon graduate, as osteopathic physicians, pharmacists and physicians assistants, from Touro University California.
I teach the osteopathic medical students and I am an alumni of the school so as I donned my cap and gown and alumni colors I was feeling just a little proud. I teach online so most of the people there didn’t recognize me, nor I them so I was feeling just a little invisible too.
There are hundreds of people gathered at the hotel for the ceremony and in the room where I wait with the other faculty the noise is significant. I tell my colleague, “I’m feeling especially deaf, and a little sensitive about it,” and she assures me it is very loud as she scoots herself a little closer so I can hear her better. As the morning wait continues I notice I am shrinking. I’m getting tired trying to hear the small talk, I’m starting to hear voices in my head telling me I don’t belong here, I shouldn’t be trying so hard and I fade in and out of the conversations around me. I’m not just deaf, I’m deaf incognito. People who know me don’t get it, so people with whom I’m not close are simple baffled by the idea that I might be having more trouble hearing than they are. Most days, most situations I just buck up and listen, read lips, say “what?” or “I’m deaf, can you speak up?” or just move on. It’s my life, I don’t stew on it every minute of every day, but something about the volume in the room and the number of people, well, my feeling proud was fading and my feeling small was taking over.
And then my colleague introduces me to an interesting looking man and I perk up. Something about him is reassuring, he seems comfortable in his own skin, and I hear, “rabbi” and realize who he is.
Touro is a jewish institution. We’re closed on high holy days, and open on christmas. Every Friday all events end by three so we can observe the shabbis, and the food we serve on campus has to be kosher. So this is the man that makes the decisions, what we can do where and when and if we are following jewish law. I’ve not met him before and being a professional I stand up and offer him my hand saying “I’m Jennifer,” but he crosses his arms and I gather from reading his body language and lips he can’t shake my hand. Being the compassionate open minded person, but very unschooled jew that I am, I simply apologize to which he says or -I should say, to which I think I hear him say – “I don’t take it personally.” And he asks me a few questions about myself, seems pleased to find out I am both faculty and an alumni and then he proceeds to tell me I am blessed. Again, I am only hearing every fourth word and it took me five tries to get his first name, but I believe at this moment he is telling me God has blessed me. I look him in the eye and I take it in. He’s right, I am blessed. I have amazing work, a good mind, pretty good health, a family I love, my daughter is phenomenal, I have a home… I’m thinking all this. and I’m thinking how small I was just feeling and so I’m being in the moment and taking it in.
“Why did you say that to me now?” I ask, I mean, I just met the guy, we are in a crowded room of people waiting to move through a graduation ceremony. This day is not about me. Is he walking around blessing people? Is this what the rabbi at Touro does? And I thought he just decided what we could and couldn’t eat and when we could and couldn’t have our continuing medical education courses.
“ Your friend told me you were disabled” – that’s not the word he used, maybe deaf, hard of hearing, I don’t know I didn’t hear him, just got the idea that is what he said, and it clicked, “Oh, you mean I’m blessed because I can’t hear, that I have some other gift – right, I suppose that’s probably true, maybe.”
“Everything is energy,” he continued. “The energy that is taken away from your hearing is given back” I put this in quotes but I have to say, again, I’m not really hearing every word he says, maybe every two or three words and filling in the rest, so perhaps he said, everything is energy and you ought to be really tired using so much energy or who knows what, maybe he said he was out of energy, but what I heard was simply, a profound and gentle blessing.
He said that what I am not using to hear, I am using for something else. He said that God uses energy in different ways. So in some words or other he said that God had taken the energy that would have been my hearing and used it on something else. That I should know I am blessed. And then he said “God bless you” – and those last three words I heard.
Now already I have mixed feelings because my relationship with something called God is far from settled or clear, in fact these days I’d have to say it’s further from being real than not, but the idea of transmutable energy, well that’s osteopathy to me, and in a way that is my idea of god. We are all wrapped in a certain amount of energy, connected by invisible threads and when we pull on one thread we affect another. I’ll reference one of my favorite Sci-Fi series – Ender’s Game but you have to read all the way to Xenocide to hear about the philotic threads…which could be a new religion or a direct link to god…. I’ll let you do that and I’ll get back to the rabbi.
So I’m blessed now and I have to say, I looked that man in the eye and I listened to him. I heard some of his words and watched his lips and his body and his field of being and I felt blessed, or maybe more accurately I was reminded that I am not small, I’m distinctly me, lucky grateful me.
A few minutes later, I’m sitting with friends, really not listening to them talk – I’m thinking about my moment with the rabbi – and out of my mouth comes this: “ is he not allowed to touch anyone or just women?”
And before they answer I know the truth of it: women. The man that blessed me couldn’t touch me because I’m a women. I’m not clean. “Don’t worry,” says my friend, making light of the situation “It’s because you are far to powerful and one touch will ….” I won’t finish her sentence, but I was not reassured. The man with us says, “I’ve known two people who are conservative jews and you should see them with their wives, Their wives are the bosses.” I’m still not reassured.
I’m blessed but I’m too dirty to touch.