Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sukkot: Temporary Residence

Approaching the Beller's house for Sukkot dinner: the first thing I can make out in the unlit night is their driveway basketball hoop, blackened by darkness to the color of the asphalt it stands upon. A few steps closer...and then, like the first rays of a musical sunrise, the faint glimmer of voices in song peek around the corner, growing in intensity by the moment, streaking harmony through the darkness...a few steps closer...finally, I approaching the sukkah, I feel my heart blossoming into flower, erupting into smile; steaming dishes of sweet harvest vegetables crowd the table, and gleaming faces of these friends I love fill the space between table and walls...I slip into empty seat and song, exchanging smiles all around, filling the spot that was meant for only me. This is the feeling of coming home.

The next morning, I stand crowded in another 3-walled structure meant to be a makeshift home for a different kind of spiritual traveler. It is exam room 9 of the YNHH emergency department, and we are two doctors, a medical student, a patient, and a son, cramped into this room that has no room. Mrs. K lies in her bed, and we hover around her. The room is somewhat dark, and her face gleams green in the shadows, biliously. Her diagnosis is pancreatic cancer, her prognosis grim. And, lest I forget to mention the obvious, she is 93 years old. Still, after we have finished gathering information about her medical history, we have to ask her the final, important question: would she like to be rescuscitated should the need arise? Her son begins to cry. This I did not expect. Our fearless leader, the resident, pauses from his routine interrogation, leaving a precarious silence in its stead. Mrs. K isn't looking at her son, and she can barely hear a thing we're saying, but she can sense the gist of what's going on here. Now she starts crying, asking me why we're still keeping her around, telling the resident that she just wants her son to be happy. It feels as though we have invaded the intimate moments of this family's relationships for our own legalistic gratification.

That night, studying in Atticus, a father and daughter eat dinner one table over. The girl is slender, articulate, flat-chested--the prototypical 9-year-old pre-intellectual daddy's girl. I am fascinated by her inflection and tone, as well as her remarkable vocabulary and sophistication of speech. "I bring a lot of pizzaz to my class, daddy," she says seriously. At one point, emphasizing her argument, she pats her father's knee affectionately, setting off pangs of pseudonostalgia in the recesses of my fatherless childhood memory bank. At another point, I notice the absence of wedding band on daddy's left hand. Divorced? Must be... my mind plays the "what if" game before I can stop it--is this what it would have been like? Would we have gone out for soup and bread pudding at high-end dessert places in NYC or LA or NJ? Yes, which city--where would I have thought of as home? Thinking about home, about temporary residences .... This time, unlike in the ED earlier today, I *want* permission to dwell--even for just these moments--in the sacred temporary space of this father and daughter enjoying dessert together.


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