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.
I am very aware of the blessings in my life. I have a wonderful family, great friends, a job I enjoy and, thank God, my health. I know how lucky I am to be a cancer survivor. I know how lucky I am to have health insurance that covered the extra tests that detected my cancer at an extremely early stage. I know how lucky I am that my treatment plan was what it was and that it was not protracted or more physically challenging. I know how lucky I am. I am so grateful. I am humbled. And, I feel guilty.
The gratitude mixed with humility and guilt has hit me hard on two separate occasions: on a recent trip to Israel visiting the Western Wall saying a prayer of thanksgiving to God, and upon learning of a friend’s recent cancer diagnosis. While her journey will be different than mine and I cannot truly know what she will be experiencing, I feel deep empathy for what she is facing. And, for some inexplicable reason, I feel guilt. My journey was not as difficult as she is preparing for hers to be.
I know it is ridiculous that I am plagued by a strange sense of guilt for not enduring a more difficult struggle through my diagnosis and treatment. My experience was my experience. My emotions were legitimate. My fears were valid. My future, in the same way that every person’s is, is still uncertain. I hope and pray my cancer won’t return, but there are no guarantees.
I was speaking with another friend of mine who recently went through a similar experience with breast cancer. She gets it. She, too, feels incredibly fortunate and is mindful that her experience was not as difficult, medically speaking, as many other people that she knows. Why can’t we just feel the gratitude without the guilt? I really don’t know. There is something inside us that is ready to dismiss our own experiences because our treatment is over and it wasn’t as invasive or prolonged a journey as it could have been.
I pray for my friend with the recent diagnosis. I pray her path will be similar to mine and the results the same. I pray for people I don’t even know who are suffering for whom I wish similar journeys. And all the while, I will try to keep the guilt at bay.
Instead, I will focus on gratitude and redirect the guilt into compassion. I will embrace the middah (Jewish virtue) of Simcha (joy), for expressing gratitude and acknowledging life’s blessings should lead to increased joy.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
I will try to live life in radical amazement. I will seize upon my profound sense of gratitude instead of guilty tears, and I will refocus my energies to easing the journeys of others and being supportive along the way.