Guest Blog by Judy Gruen: Counting Our Blessings

  Last night as my husband, Jeff, and I had dinner together, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. This     might seem odd, since we are inching toward our 25th anniversary, and by my calculation, we have eaten nearly 9,000 dinners together. (I also figure that I have likely cooked more than 8,000 of them!) Fortunately, our enduring partnership has not dulled our affection for or interest in one another. In contrast to the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, familiarity for us has bred content, and much more. Today we cherish a deeper emotional connection than we could have dreamed possible when we first married.

We are now quasi empty-nesters who still work long hours at our respective jobs. Physically and psychologically, our evening meals provide nourishment for both body and soul. We talk about our kids, our work, the news. We talk about books we are reading, and share new insights from classes we have attended. And of course there is the mundane stuff of life, such as who will take the car for the oil change, and when we will ever get around to dumping the ancient, faded family room couch and freshen up that long-neglected room.

If the day has been particularly maddening or frazzling, we'll play sure-fire calming classics for ambiance: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart's "A Little Night Music," Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Other evenings, we'll play Celtic instrumentals, Spanish guitar, and folk/rock from "our time," especially Jeff's all-time favorite singer-songwriter, James Taylor.What made last night's dinner particularly meaningful was that it was the first night in nearly two weeks when Jeff could sit up for dinner at all without excruciating pain. Twelve days earlier, he began to feel unwell. Two days after that, he experienced brutal head and neck pain whenever he tried to sit up or stand. Although it was the morning of our Sabbath, when we normally don't use the phone or ride in cars, I called the paramedics. We spent the next eleven hours in the emergency department of a nearby hospital, where a caring and capable doctor and a cadre of hard-working nurses tried to ease Jeff's pain.

Jeff has been blessed with excellent health and stamina – blessings that we tried not to take for granted. His robust energy had also seemed a vital necessity given the demands of running a small business, where twelve-hour work days are much too common. In twenty-two years he's rarely missed a day of work due to illness. When he has, it was usually because I adamantly insisted that he stay home to rest.

The suddenness and severity of his pain was terrifying, but we tried not to "catastrophize," and fought the tendency to imagine dreadful diagnoses. Fortunately, every test at the hospital revealed a man in good health. Finally, the doctor surmised that the pain was caused by a nasty virus, and he recommended the low-tech solution of complete bed rest and lots of liquids. We were relieved to finally come home, but were exhausted and still worried. Was this really a virus? How long would the symptoms last? What if the doctor was wrong?

A few days later a neurologist diagnosed the problem as a small tear at the base of Jeff's brain, which caused a leak of spinal fluid whenever he was in any upright position. It was a rare and unlikely event, given that Jeff had not had any head trauma. The doctor was optimistic that several days of complete rest and drinking copious amounts of liquid would heal the tear. And if it didn't, there were non-surgical corrections available.

Jeff had no choice but to submit to a regimen of complete bed rest. But while you can take the man out of the office, you can't always take the office out of the man, and my husband continued to work via BlackBerry and iPad while lying down. "Just because I've sprung a leak doesn't mean I can't work," he joked, revealing his sense of humor was still intact while mine was missing in action. I typed the longer emails, because, trust me, it's really hard to type while holding an iPad aloft.

During his convalescence, the morning blessings that we recite assumed a new poignancy: We thank the Almighty for waking up in full consciousness (even if we are still a bit groggy), for the gift of sight, for mindful understanding, for "releasing the bound," "straightening the bent,"  and "giving strength to the weary." For the first time in his life, Jeff recited these blessings unable to stand. As he slowly regained strength and equilibrium, and could sit up for a few minutes longer each day, we were awed by the human body's exquisite balance, miraculous complexity, and a remarkable capacity to heal. We were awed by the Almighty's masterpiece of design.

Despite the fright and pain of this episode, we realize how blessed we are that it was of short duration, and according the doctor, unlikely to recur. "The small things really are the big things," my husband said to me that evening, enjoying the novel sensation of sitting up pain-free. Enduring the health scare of his life has made him determined to finally implement the kind of changes he has long wanted to make at work, so that he can run his business more than his business runs him.

As he told a friend who came to visit, "This experience has reminded me in no uncertain terms of what's really important in my life: the unconditional love from my wife and children, a supportive community, and a loyal team of employees. I like to think that the goodness I've tried to put out there over the years has come home when I needed it most."

This is why our quiet little dinners, which we had already looked forward to each night with happy anticipation, are times to cherish even more, both of us grateful to know "you've got a friend."

Judy Gruen is the author of four books, including the newly released Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. She lives in Los Angeles. Her website is: www.judygruen.com

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