Alternately, my uncle, whom I am very close to, has been very sick and in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. On Sunday, my family attended a mass in his name at the Catholic church he attends.
I'm sure there are many comparisons that can be drawn between the two events - youth vs. age, Judaism vs. Catholicism, etc. But the two moments that struck me the most, that brought tears to my eyes, both involve the written word and how the smallest gestures have the greatest impact.
In simplest terms, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a symbolic ceremony where a 13-yr-old Jewish child enters adulthood. Lauren chose to have a 'Twinning Ceremony' as part of her celebration. Approximately a million and half Jewish children were murdered during the Holocaust - children who never got to make their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Sources such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum can provide names, ages, and sometimes photographs of those that did not survive. This data, words and small things that when put together, make a life. Wrote Lauren of the girl she chose as her 'twin', "Her name is Loren Salmut of Satu-Mare, Hungary. She was only 5 years old when she perished in Auschwitz along with her mother Regina and father Daniel. Because she and so many other children were unable to become a Bat Mitzvah, Lauren will carry on this tradition today in their memory."
I was also struck by how Lauren was so excited to include Loren, even in her candle lighting ceremony later that night. Meanwhile, I was a blubbering fool in the audience watching this young girl truly become an young woman. Mazel Tov Lauren.
Skip ahead to Sunday after mass, where I was visiting my uncle in the hospital. He is on a ventilator which helps him to breathe, and though he can't speak and is on pain medication, he was very lucid and often tries to communicate. The hospital provided a clipboard with sheets of letters and pictures that he could point to if he needed to say something. He would often try very hard to write things on paper, though one hand is barely useable due to IV's and sores from medication. Pointing to the letters on the clipboard could take quite a long time and was often not successful, resulting in frustration on his part and his loved ones.
So when I walked in on Sunday, my mother showed me something that a relative had created. Leanne is an awesome teacher, (which explains a lot). She had simply gone to her computer and made a few pages, probably in minutes. One list had the names of all his friends and family that come to visit, so he can simply point to the name of the person he is talking to or about. The second list looked something like this:
Change the channel
I feel pain
Please get the nurse
A whole list of simple requests or emotions. Something that her 'teacher brain' instantly thought of that could make a huge difference for my uncle. I was so touched by this gesture, especially the "I'm sad" part. It must be hard enough to communicate your wishes about life-saving steps and critical care when you are very sick, never mind when you can't speak. I'm so glad these simple words are there for him.
The power of the written word. Whether the words are hugely important or fictional stories that share the human experience - they matter.
I leave you with this quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
"I write to understand as much as to be understood."