In his biography of Lincoln, Carl Sandberg quotes an old proverb known to woodsman, “A tree is best measured when it is down - and so it’s with people.”
I recently fell down, and it has prompted me to take some new measurements, of myself and the world around me. During the course of my recovery, one of my health care providers asked me, “How has your bicycle accident made your life better?” My injuries have made my life more difficult, but the experience has also shown me how lucky I am to have the love and support of so many people – both family and community. I am a pretty independent person, but the experience has taught me how much of who I am is a result of the efforts of others.
For those who don’t know, here’s the story of my accident.
On May 23, I woke, went to shul, and davened. I ate breakfast and departed on my weekly (day off) bike ride. My ride is a 50K circuit through Toronto. I enter our city's glorious park system at the Humber Ravine just south of Lawrence Avenue and exit from the Don Valley Ravine near Sunnybrook. All this I remember.
At a certain point along my regular route my memory goes dark. I remember nothing for 24 hours. I was told (after the fact) - that I had an accident along the Humber River bike path near James Gardens. The accident was catastrophic: someone found me and called 911 - that person also called Avital from my cell phone. I am grateful to this unknown helper.
An ambulance took me to Sunnybrook Hospital - where two brain-scans were performed. The scans were clear, but I had had a major concussion. My arms were a jumble of bone and flesh. Surgeons would perform major surgery on both my arms to stabilize the fractures.
That evening, hundreds of community members gathered in Shaarei Shomayim's Sharp Sanctuary to daven on my behalf. My mind returned to my body, the next day. In retrospect, I attribute the extent of my recovery to God's grace sparked by the prayers of those who prayed on my behalf. I am so grateful to everyone for their tefillot.
When I say "Modeh ani l'fanecha melech chay vekayam shehechazarta bi nishmati b'chemla rabba emunatecha - I thank you, living and eternal King for giving me back my soul in mercy; great is Your faithfulness" - I do so with renewed appreciation of the link between body and consciousness. Given the condition in which I was, I am so grateful to Hashem to be where I am.
On Friday, two days after my accident, my doctors allowed me to return home for my son Adir's Bar Mitzvah. Thanks to my loving and supportive family for looking after me - both in the hospital and upon my return home. The Bar Mitzvah was beautiful. I was taken by wheelchair to hear Adir layn Parshat Naso and the haftorah. I am so proud to have heard his layning and his words of Torah upon our siyum seder zeraim mishnayot (which I heard afterwards). I felt so much love and support that day - from all those present. Our family felt the embrace of a community that is really our extended family. Our simcha was truly your simcha.
When I returned to the hospital the following week, Avital thanked the doctors for caring for me and allowing me to participate in my son's Bar Mitzvah. One surgeon said, "Repairing his hands was science; the fact that his brain had repaired itself was a miracle."
My recovery is proceeding on pace. My casts came off and were replaced with braces two weeks after my accident; four weeks later the braces came off, as well. I am thank-God improving. I am back to work and receiving physical therapy. I sleep a little more than usual to avoid concussion symptoms. When you see me on Rosh Hahshanah, I should be back to normal.
“A tree is best measured when it is down - and so it’s with people.” I have experienced something when it comes to adversity: as members of a community - we do not face challenge alone. When you fall, you have friends and family who will help you. I have been blessed by this support.
As a rabbi, I often visit people who are injured or ill. I never fully appreciated how meaningful these actions can be. To be on the receiving end of prayers, visits, and so many act of kindness has been a revelation.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we each take the measure of our life. When we beat our chests and say ashamnu, we are acknowledging that we have fallen. Sometimes the best measure of oneself and the world can come from a fallen state. In one respect, however, the woodsmen’s old proverb falls short: When a tree falls, it cannot get up again. However, when a person falls, he or she can.
May we merit not to fall. But if we do, may we have the strength to look around, take measure of the support around us, and get up once more.
Avital and I wish you a shana tova u’metukah. We are grateful to the medical professionals at Sunnybrook who provided me with such excellent care. We are grateful to the Shaarei Shomayim Community for their physical and emotional support. The many calls, e-mails, and letters offering encouragement have heartened us during a difficult time. We feel so blessed to be a part of this wonderful and supportive community.