Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
This week I cannot say I have no regrets.
I regret that I couldn’t walk the dog, or otherwise exercise, because sweat would irritate and impede the healing of the 2-inch incision on my back. I regret that I was cranky and ungracious while my spouse dutifully tended to my wound care, just as he did nearly six years ago after my first benign-but-weird mole was removed.
Prior to that procedure I wrote with humor about the damage that had already been done: “Brighton Beach…Long Branch…Point Pleasant…the places where I spent my youth. We didn’t know about SPF then. We rolled over every 30 minutes to get an even tan. Now you can draw a map of these shorelines by connecting the freckles that cover my arms and—though I can’t see them from this angle—my shoulders and back.”
This week I am feeling more circumspect.
Now, at 50, I’m under the dermatologist’s knife again, listening carefully to the nurse’s recitation of the timetable: we’ll call in a week with the results and you’ll come back in two weeks for suture removal. I find it difficult to reconcile my adult regrets about the misspent summers of my youth, though I’m relieved my back bears the consequences of my carelessness and my face has been unaccountably spared. After all, we sat for hours with those aluminum foil reflectors under our chins to ensure our faces would tan, even after we knew better, long after the skin on our noses burned and only the nightly application of Noxema could provide cool relief.
I understand we were emboldened by a sense of immortality so common to this stage of life. Teenagers cannot fathom the long-lasting consequences of a languorous week at the beach any more than middle-aged parents of teenagers can convince their progeny to wear sunscreen to prevent benign-but-weird moles from developing on their unprotected skin.
In three months, I’ll return to the doctor’s office to begin anew the rigorous routine of four visits a year for rechecks, each appointment accompanied by the mild anxiety she will find a new mole has surfaced or an old one has grown sinister in appearance.
Meanwhile, I don my wide-brimmed hat when I walk the dog and sit under the shade of an umbrella by the pool. I slather myself with sunscreen every morning when I leave the house and generously reapply it to my face when I leave school every afternoon. I praise God for creating human beings with the wisdom to take corrective measures when necessary.
This week I thank God, who heals all creatures and does great wonders.
Life cannot be lived in reverse, so as I move inevitably forward through my fifties I’ll take precautions. I want to be able to say—in 25 or 30 years—to my grandchildren that I can look back on my life and have no regrets, because I did my best to protect and preserve the body that houses the soul that understands living is reflecting on the past and enjoying the present, while looking forward to brighter days in the future.