Why I want to live and die like Oliver Sacks

My tears surprise me. I am reading Oliver Sacks’ New York Times op-ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html?_r=0) where he shares that his cancer has metastasized to his liver and in a few months he will leave this world.

These are not the tears I cry when I hear of a young mother stricken with incurable cancer, or a teenager plucked from this world tragically before his prime. In his 81 years Sacks has achieved dazzling success and acclaim as both a scientist and an author.  His ground-breaking discoveries in the field of neuro-science have transformed modern medicine’s understanding of the brain. Hailed by The New York Times as “the poet laureate of medicine,” Sacks will leave the world of both medicine and literature infinitely richer.

It is the fullness of his life which moves me. It is specifically the fact that he stands facing death with not a whisper of regret in his words. Quite the opposite, his words are dripping with fulfilment and gratitude. Till his last day, he chooses to embrace the world: “It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” he writes. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

I cry because I, too, will one day stand at the edge of my life. As unwilling as I am to think of death, I know it will inevitably happen. But what terrifies me most is to stand at the brink of my life and to have not lived fully. I am so full at the moment, brimming with dreams and plans and hopes and goals. I want so much – for myself, for my relationships, for my children. Yet I am constantly unsure that I will get there. I find myself pushing off my dreams to another day.

Oliver Sacks does not live in the world of “another day.” He faces death with courage and serenity because he is living a life replete with vitality. To stand at the edge of the this world, looking back with regrets and saying to yourself, I had dreams but I was afraid. I held grudges because I was too proud to let it go. I wanted to do so much but I got distracted. I thought there was more time – that is frightening.

Often one hears of stories of near-fatal events where a person was miraculously saved from an illness or an accident. A bucket list is written and dramatic changes to their lives are made. Relationships are prioritized, old feuds are settled and a heightened awareness of purpose and the sacredness of each moment is awakened. Do we have to wait for a tragedy to realign our goals?

Each of us is born with infinite potential for greatness. Yet we hold back. The what-ifs, the have-tos, the should-haves often cloud our choices. Sometimes we don’t examine our choices fully. We let the expectations and social norms dictate. Our dreams remained buried among fears and complacency.

So reading Sacks’ reflections as he nears the end of his time in the world, I am envious. He is confident that he has given his all. “But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.” To be overflowing with gratitude in the face of death can only be a result of life lived with constant appreciation of the blessings.

So with the courage, engagement and creativity that he lived his life, he approaches his death. The self he has cultivated – the self of love and gratitude is what he will carry through the rest of the days on this planet.

The tears I shed tell of a profound yearning for such a life. I imagine of myself at the end of my days as an old woman. My limbs may be frail and weary; and my face may be wrinkled, but I dream that I will hold a deep satisfaction that I gave my all. That I was brave and I loved and contributed what only I was able to. I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that I did all I could have done.

Behind the Scenes – Diary of a TS Wannabe

(Background: I am very involved in the More to Life program, which teaches transformational personal growth and evolution towards each of our best selves. It has been an invaluable part of my journey to who I am today, and was one of the greatest blessings I ever received. This coming training weekend I have volunteered to lead the the volunteer team in making it happen… a gigantic step into the unknown. I am sharing how I arrived at this point, and my invitation to every and any More to Lifer to join our team. And if you are interested in doing the weekend, I would be very happy to share more information about it – this is the only one this year not over shabbat)

I always wondered, how do you become TS (Training Supervisor) of a More to Life weekend. So, before I invite you to join our team, I want to share with you what went on for me behind the scenes…….

Wednesday afternoon 3.07pm.

 

Amichai:  “Eliana………..!!” (Amichai’s exuberance booms through my phone and the cacophony of my toddler’s tantrum)

 

Me: “Um hi, Ami….what’s up?”

 

Amichai: “I hear you are TS for April!”

 

Me: “I am?” (Nervous chuckle, stomach drops…)

 

Amichai: “Yes! Come on why not…?’

 

Me: “I never said anything about being TS…we’ll see… I have commitments; my life is so busy at the moment”

 

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But the seed was planted.

 

My mindtalk (one’s inner script, often unchecked and untrue) goes wild, shooting objections at the speed of light.

You are too young (I am almost 30)

You are too busy (I work and have 2 small delightful and demanding children)

TS is for real More to Life people

TS is for the big league

 

But I can’t say no yet.

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A few days later, bumping into a friend from More to Life:

Friend: “So, I hear you are TS, Ami told me”

Me: “No, I havent agreed”.. Nervous laughter & confusion…(Mindtalk; I am going to kill Amichai)

 

Later that same day, Whatsapp conversation between me and Amichai.

 

Eliana: Ami, I havent agreed to be TS, you know

Amichai: What’s going on?

Eliana: I need to figure my intention

Amichai: No need, just breathe and go where your full breath takes you

 

I listen to his advice. I breathe and breathe some more. And with each breath I sink deeper into fear and excitement and fear and unknown and anticipation. But mostly I breathe into a YES I WANT THIS FOR MYSELF.

 

Phone call with Franki:

“I am up for TS…” (I feel nauseous at the sound of my words. Is this possible? Can I really do it? Can I make it work? It’s such a big commitment. Yet deeper than the mind’s nattering is a primal YES pulsating through my veins. YES. YES. YES. I can. I will)

 

 

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And this is how I found myself writing an invitation to being on team as TS. I did the More to Life weekend 5 years ago. And slowly it changed me, and still changes the paradigm I see life through. As I step forward, I am terrified, beyond excited and wildly curious as to what is possible. And to make anything possible, we need a team of dreamers and doers and thinkers and planners and talkers and writers and organizers and walkers and runners and carriers.

 

So I personally ask you to hear this invitation. Hear the no’s. But let the YES talk louder. Say yes, even if there’s every reason to say NO. Say YES because we need you. We need your unique light, your passion & your energy.

 

Whether this is the first time or your twenty-first team,I will bet that there’s a little person in you saying “Pick me, pick me”. The weekend is a space to see and be seen. To grow and watch growth. To see the beauty of the human spirit in its rawest form. It’s a chance to come back to yourself.

 

So take a moment and ask yourself honestly, “Do I want to be on team, do I want to give of my best, to find out who is the best version me, and be part of transforming our universe?” And if your breath screams YES, it would be our honour to have you as a fellow passenger on this journey.

Why I gave up nursing – Light in dark places

Light comes where you least expect it.

I am so tired; so unbearably tired. I silently wish upon parents-of-sleeping-through-babies that they are attacked with a terrible case of teething. It’s been holidays, so my maid is away. I am with the children 24/7. No yoga, no work, no sleep, no writing. I am crumbling but I don’t even know it. I drive to Centurion and I nearly crash on the speeding highway. I am so tired I constantly want to vomit.

I bump into a good friend in the park on Shabbas chanuka afternoon. She too has a little baby, the same age as my precious Yehuda. She too suffers from extreme fatigue due to her baby’s horrid non-sleeping habits. We swap notes; and commiserate as we are in the same transient but trying place. I like her very, very much. She somehow pulls off being simultaneously human, honest and transcendental. She is gentle and kind. So I am not prepared for what comes next.

After chatting a while, with some hesitation, she says to me. “I need to tell you something, and it’s only because I really, really like you.  “Go for it”, I say always open to honesty. “I am scared for you, you can’t talk like this.” I am affronted. I am the poster girl for honest-motherhood, I believe that so much is candy-coated and people need to know their struggles are common and normal. But somewhere in the recent weeks, I crossed a line and didn’t even know it. But she saw it. Somewhere I moved from honest to bitter, resentful and angry. I was envious of those with easier babies.

So I took a step back and breathed. Sure; I talk about gratitude. But it is lip-service. My heart is hateful. I am losing myself. And this friend is nothing but good and kind; so her words were just truth.

Something has to change, I realise. Something has got to give.

The very next morning, I called the night nurse who helped when Yehuda was born. I booked her for that very night; with G-ds grace she was available. That night I slept more than 2 consecutive hours for the first time in weeks.

I am so used to doing it all. Everyone needs me, so I need to. My husband needs his sleep. My children need me. Reading the book “Women, food and G-d” I realised how it’s very apparent in how I prepare our meals. My daughter gets her crumbed chicken and boiled eggs and salad. My husband gets his gluten-free Chalav Yisrael fare. And me? I shovel in left-overs while rocking my baby to sleep.

No wonder there is nothing left to give. Of course, the morning after the night nurse comes I feel like I have been re-born. I don’t recoil as my daughter begins her tyrannical commands the second she wakes up.

And of course, the  internal judgments rain down. How many millions of mothers coped without sleep through the millennia without the spoiled luxury of a night nurse? How pathetic are you, how weak and fragile. Look at all the mothers who are my age with 8 children and no maid and a spotless house and never complain.

But it’s a lie. This modern world of living in segregation is a new thing. We pay a price. It takes a village to raise a child. I envisage villages where grandmothers live with the family and hold the baby while the mother goes to draw water. No one does it alone. And I don’t need to.

There is more. I stop nursing. The decision rips my heart in pieces, I debate it for days. But I don’t have enough milk. I have been supplementing, so there is less and less. But I refuse to give it up.

Masked in selflessness, it became selfish and self-gratifying. Even though no one was gratified. I wanted to feel like a good mother. A good mother is one who breastfeeds at any cost. No matter how dysfunctional it makes her. No matter how anxious, edgy, stressed or debilitated from tiredness she is. My children suffered, I suffered.

There was a choice. I could devote myself full-time to re-gaining sufficient supply. I could exclusively feed and pump after each feed and drink beer and take Eglynol and prolak and fenugreek. But I don’t have the nerves or the will. I am reluctant to give it up because what if it doesn’t help his sleeping, and now I have weaned him in vain. But then a friend wisely re-frames it. At least you will know he’s not hungry. And she’s right. There will be one less thing to be anxious about. So I do it. It’s much more of an effort. But I am at peace about one more thing. In the night, I try the dummy before I get a bottle. I still haven’t figured out the easiest way to pack bottles. He’s not very scheduled, so it’s tough. But I know he’s getting enough milk and nights are slowly becoming tolerable.

I write this post overlooking the lush garden of the Misty Hills spa we have come for the night to sans children. We have been discussing it for weeks, but I was resistant. I still feel guilty for leaving my baby. I feel horrid when my mother tells me how he smiles non-stop at her. But it’s important to feed the mother. The mother feeds the child, but who feeds the mother. The mini-holiday is stupendous; I sit with nothing but my own thoughts.

Sometimes our darkness is so dark we don’t even realise we can’t are blinded. The darkest black is where we think we are enlightened. When we don’t realise we need help and love and support. It’s the darkness of the martyr or of the suffering servant who doesn’t make space to be held by another.

And so in  the bright summer afternoon under the blazing sun, I thank you you for showing me the light I didn’t know I needed.

Why I am that freak and it’s okay

I was a freak. And I knew it. Throughout primary school, I was the odd-one out. All my friends would un-wrap their fluffy sandwiches on white fluffy bread. And I would un-wrap my whole-wheat sandwiches. Brown, grainy  and even with SEEDS.

It was before the days when organic and stone-ground and gluten-free was in vogue. But my parents tried their best to not give us obvious poison. Cereals were the plain kind. Rice crispies and bran flakes and *gasp* oats. Coco-pops were for Shabbas. Snacks were granola bars (which incidentally are sugar laden). Left over challa was toasted as a delicacy on Sunday morning. White toast slathered in butter equalled my idea of heaven.

Never mind the fact that brown-bakery bread is just as full of chemicals and preservatives and white bread. And Rice Crispies has almost the same amount of sugar as Bran-flakes. And that I subsisted for years on macaroni cheese for supper.

But still, I felt like a freak. In a weird way I was proud that my parents cared enough to try to give us healthier food, but I longed for a cupboard full of frosties and toasted cheese on flufy nutrition-less white bread.

And then in university I spent a year on a raw-food diet. It was awesome, unsustainable and I learned things I could never erase about nutrition. I married and I became less of a health freak but still health conscious. I never, ever deep fry, there’s no yellow cheese in my house and we eat a lot of fresh produce. Chocolate is its own very important food group.

And then my Ella was born. For the first year of her life I was convinced she had a growth problem and it was sole prerogative to stuff pretty much anything I could into her mouth. I would pour cream into her bottles and let her eat as many sugary-yogurts as she wanted.

Then I let go a little and she began eating a lot. It’s a story in itself, but now she is pretty good eater. She loves tomatoes and chicken and eggs and peaches and chocolate. I rarely buy junk food, besides for marie biscuits. And it worked. She was too young to know the difference. She ate what I gave her, and if I said no to something she was indifferent.

And then she got an opinion. She developed an addiction to carrot kugel. She would cram it down her throat as fast as humanly possible. So I made her carrot kugel with whole-wheat stone ground-flour.

When she started school, I sent her with the most gorgeous snacks. Fruit salad and cut up vegetables and boiled eggs and raisins. And I would see her begging the other kids for their chips or biscuits. So I bought chips, but only plain salted crisps with no MSG.

The only cereal I could locate with less sugar was wheat-bi so that is breakfast. Yogurt was double-cream Woolworths Bulgarian with fruit and honey.

And then I went to friend. Ella sat for ½ an hour and painstakingly devoured every milli-drop of two winnie-the-poo yogurts. The ones I always look at and think should I buy? After all, everyone gives their kids them. Wise, loving, conscious and committed moms I know give them to their kids. And oatees. She adores them and eats buckets at my mom’s house. How bad can it be? But I can’t do it. I read the yogurt label and see that every yogurt has two teaspoons o sugar in it. I imagine pouring two teaspoons of sugar into her bowl. I would never do it. I think I know too much. I know how sugar causes irritability and ADD and all sorts of things. And how awful I feel when I eat sugar. How the liver views it as a poison and cant digest it at all.

And then a friend who is a baker tells me about the bread. Even the whole-wheat health loaves which are saturated preservatives and margarine and sugar. So I baked my own bread with stone-ground unbleached flour. And I think, am I being ridiculous and weird. So many kids are just fine eating oatees and bakery bread and winne-the-poo yogurts.

And summer comes. Ice-lollies are great, but I can’t bring myself to buy the ones which are like eating pure sugar disguised in a colour. So I make my own. With juice and yogurt and fruit. And I think, am I making her into a freak. I don’t know. I don’t know if it will last. I buy chocolate for shabbas and when we are out she can eat whatever she wants

I realise that it’s my own fear of being a freak. She may or may not feel like “that child”. The one with home-made ice-lollies. I have no idea what she will remember or feel. But what I am sure is that I will not let my own childhood misnomers sway me from giving my daughter the best I can.

(I recently read the book “Inuitive Eating” – there is a life changing chapter at the end “How to raise intuitive eaters” which changed my entire outlook on feeding kidsa)