Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Be a Better Friend: A Short Story

Rochel and Shula had just finished listing all the teachers who needed to be thanked when Rochel suddenly doubled over in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Shula asked full of concern.
Rochel just groaned.
“Can I get you some water?"
Rochel shook her head. Not only was she in pain, but she was also embarrassed. Shula was a sophisticated woman who ran her own bookkeeping business. She, in contrast, was a stay-at-home mother who supplemented her family’s income with babysitting.
The two had never had much in common. For some reason, though, their daughters’ teacher decided they would be the perfect ones to head the committee to plan the eighth grade graduation. Now, after she felt that Shula was getting to know and respect her, she had to have one of her attacks.
With great effort she bit her lip, raised her head, and tried to smile at Shula. “I’m sorry I scared you,” she answered ruefully. “It’s just that I get these stomach pains every so often that make me feel like I’m a sotah and my stomach is going to explode any second.”
“You’re still in pain now?” Shula seemed full of sympathy and Rochel did not feel as embarrassed.
“Not like before,” Rochel took slow, deep breaths and her color gradually returned. She smiled ironically. “It’s kind of like labor pains, it starts slowly, builds to a climax, and then it ebbs out. Only I don’t get a baby out of the ordeal.” 
Shula smiled. She did respect Rochel, more than Rochel could imagine. One of the reasons was Rochel’s ability to put a cheerful face on the most trying of circumstances. “Have you been to the doctor?”
“Oh, yes,” Rochel sighed. “When the pains first started about six months ago. He sent me to the gastro specialist and she ordered all sorts of tests.” Rochel wrinkled up her nose in distaste. “Some of them were not very pleasant but they all came out okay and they could not find any reason for the pain. So, I went to a homeopathic doctor.”
“And?” Shula prodded.
“He had an excellent reputation but it cost a lot of money and he told me to stop eating anything with cooked oil, but I didn’t eat cooked oil to begin with,” Rochel sighed again.” It’s something I’ll just have to learn to live with.”
“That’s crazy!” Shula exclaimed. “Have you tried going to the emergency room?” 
Rochel shook her head. “The pain lasts an hour at the most. By the time I would get to the hospital and be called in it would be all over.”
Shula mulled over what Rochel had told her. “Rochel, you’ve got to go back to your family doctor.”
Rochel shook her head again. “It’s a waste of time.”
Shula shook her head in response. “I know you don’t have a surplus of time,” she said with understanding. “But he has to know you’re still having the pains. Is there something I can do to help out so you’ll have time to go?”
Rochel’s face lit up. “That’s so nice of you!” she exclaimed.
Shula blushed. “Well, I care about you. I’m really glad the girls’ teacher put us together and I got to know you.”
“I feel the same way,” Rochel said softly.
“So, you’ll call the doctor tomorrow?” Shula insisted.
“You’re not going to let up on me until I do?”
“Probably not.”
Four days later Rochel called Shula and her voice was full of excitement.
“I went to the doctor and he sent me for an ultrasound. And I have a hernia. That was the reason for the pain.”
“So you’re going to have surgery?”
“I’m scheduled for two weeks from Thursday.”
“You sound awfully happy for someone who needs to have surgery.”
“It’s such a relief to know what the problem is and know that it’s not going to kill me,” Rochel laughed. “But Shula, don’t tell anyone I’m having an operation.”
“The more people who know the more can pray for you,” Shula responded gently.
“A hernia operation is the easiest operation there is except for having wisdom teeth out. I’ll be coming home from the hospital Friday, if all’s well, rest up over Shabbat, and be back to normal by Sunday.”
Any operation is an operation, Shula thought but did not voice her opinion. Instead she resolved to put Rochel on her prayer list and to prepare dinner to send in Monday after the surgery.
Rochel did tell a few people. The doctor told her that she could not do any lifting for at least two weeks after the operation so she had to make alternative babysitting arrangements for her charges. Of course, her husband told her mother-in-law and she told her married daughters. They sent in all the food they would need for Shabbat and then some.
Sunday morning, however, Rochel discovered that she was not back to normal. She was taking pain pills every four hours and having trouble sitting, standing, and walking. Word spread that she was not well and visitors began coming. The Sages teach that everyone who visits the sick takes away one-sixtieth of the illness. Rochel did not know if her callers made her any healthier but they sure took her mind off her pain, far more than any of her books or music could. However, there was a nagging thought in the back of her mind. What had happened to Shula?
Rochel’s pain had put a damper on her ability to put a cheerful face on the most trying of circumstances. She was annoyed that Shula did not call. Her new “friend” might have been glad that the teacher paired them up but obviously that gladness did not mean Shula was interested in a friendship. And yet, Rochel, reminded herself, Shula had really seemed sincere. Then she would shrug her shoulders. Obviously, Shula was a do-gooder who wanted to be nice to her mousy co-chairman. As Rochel’s thoughts took her down the path of self-pity, she would stop and pick up a book of psalms. Then she would be fine until the next time negative energy took over her emotions.
Despite all the visitors she had all week long, she continued to hope that Shula would come knocking at the door. Every time the phone rang she would check caller ID. Finally, Friday morning, nine days after the surgery, Shula’s number appeared.
“Rochel? How are you feeling?” Shula’s voice was definitely stressed.
“Okay.” Rochel’s voice was flat.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been over or brought you dinner or anything.” Rochel heard tears in Shula’s voice. “I, I need your help.”
“What’s wrong?” Rochel’s heartbeat quickened. Had she been spending all her time resenting Shula’s silence while Shula was having troubles of her own?
“My mother was in a car accident Erev Shabbat on her way to us. She’s been in ICU all week and they are prepping her for surgery now…”
“I’m so sorry!” Rochel felt her face flush with mortification.
“Thank you,” Shula swallowed back a sob. “Can you please pray for her?”
“Of course! Can I call anyone else for you?”
“Oh, that would be so nice,” Shula exclaimed.”Do you have time?”
“I have time,” Rochel said emphatically. “Give me all the numbers you want.”
She took the pad of paper next to her bed and began jotting down the phone numbers. The Sages may have taught us that everyone who visits the sick takes away one-sixtieth of the illness. They also taught us the commandment to judge others favorably.
Rochel felt ashamed of herself. She was able to forget about her pain while she made the calls. That done she picked up her book of psalms and prayed for Shula’s mother. She also prayed for forgiveness. It was horrible that she had judged Shula harshly. She prayed that she could be a better friend.

Sotah: A woman suspected of adultery, see Numbers, Chapter 5, verses11-13
Erev: eve

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