This week I called Mt. Sinai. I was hoping for some clarity about what I should do about restricting my attendance at public events because of the Corona Virus. Just as I have been adding events to my schedule, the virus is spreading. As in many matters with my health I was seeking clear answers and the best advice I got was, listen to the CDC warnings, take precautions and then decide. So far I have decided to absent myself from a number of activities. I did not attend Purim services, but listened to the reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther) in a live streaming broadcast from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. It was very well done. I exercised at Retro Fitness last Sunday, but I will not be returning there for the foreseeable future. If the weather continues to be warm, I will go back to Saddle River Park and walk there as I did yesterday. I will stay home on Shabbat morning after regularly attending services at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel for many months. I decided not to attend the classes I started at Bergen County Community College, in their special courses for retirees. However I just received a phone call that they are going to be cancelled for next week at least. I am praying for a speedy recovery for all who are ill and that this epidemic soon ends.
I recently finished a project that I began a few weeks ago. I printed out all of the blog posts that I wrote, and the e mails that Rhonda sent out over the last year and a half, placed each in a plastic sheet protector and then in a leather bound loose leaf. It is a reminder of what we have been through. I added a number of photos to that book. I began with the ones we put up on the wall in my hospital room at Mt. Sinai of my family and continued with pictures of me with my family and friends during my recovery. The one photo on the wall in my hospital room that got the most attention from those visiting and caring for me was of Rhonda and me taken about fifty years ago. We both looked like most young people did then. We were even asked, “Who are those people?” You can see it on this blog under photos. [I was not able to figure out how to post it there. The photo is on my Facebook page.] I was so glad to have those pictures near me. Reading through those pages and looking at the photos brought back memories. I had forgotten many of the details of my hospital stays. I even felt that we should have taken more photos of me during my recovery, but that was not on my mind at the time.
I thought about all I forgot as well. It was not just the “lost week” when I was taken to the intensive care unit, and put on dialysis when my kidneys failed. All I recall of that week was lying in my bed in my isolation room with the doctors and nurses around me and the next recollection I have is once again lying in my bed in my hospital room, not knowing that seven days had passed. I don’t mind that I forgot that week. I wish I could forget the week when I was given chemotherapy. I have delivered many sermons about the importance of memory and how we must recall the past. Historical events can be erased from consciousness. We, as Jews, know the consequences of the world forgetting the Holocaust. Historical memory is crucial to understanding the past and how to act in the present.
However some forgetting may be good on a personal level, according to an article in the New York Times, Scientists Identity Neurons That Help the Brain Forget by Knvuk Sheikh. It was based on recent studies of the human brain and stated that, “The ability to forget…was just as vital as the ability to remember.” We get so much information each day that we cannot deal with it all. One scientist, Dr. Ronald Davis, said, “If the memory is really important to the organism, then this attention or emotional interest will come in and act like a judge, telling the brain, ‘Keep this one, protect it.’” The article points out that we are far from the day when “traumatic memories can be erased and sunny ones are easier to recall.” That is only possible, the reporter concludes, in movies like, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” What I found fascinating is how I have forgotten some of the worst memories of my hospital stays. I recall the great kindness of the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and all of those who cared for me as well as the positive disposition of the woman who cleaned my room each morning and the young man who took my meal orders. That is all for the good. And, oh yes, as for that movie mentioned in the article, I went to the internet and read the plot summary. In an ironic twist, I could not remember whether or not I had seen it! But after looking at a synopsis. I realized I did watch it not long after I was discharged from the hospital. It was about a doctor who could erase your recollection of certain past events. I guess seeing it was not one of my sunniest memories.