Posted by: Teri Simon | 2012/09/23

High Holy Days in the Land of Lung Junk

high holy daysGood evening, my friends.  I imagine some of you are watching the Emmy’s, others are watching football or celebrating or mourning wins/losses, and some are yelling at kids to finish homework/take a bath or shower/get into bed, or fixing dinner.   There is a population, however, that is taking stock in their lives, considering how they might make positive changes, reaching out to people whom they have wronged, considering forgiveness for others and for themselves.  They are my fellow Jews, sitting smack dab in the middle of the Days of Awe, which started with Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) last week, and culminate this Tuesday night and Wednesday with the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur.

You’d think that a spiritual person like me would be hanging close the hallowed halls of my house of worship at this time of year, but no, you will not see me there at all this year.  I skipped Rosh Hashanah, and will not be present Tuesday night for Kol Nidre, the start of Yom Kippur, nor on Yom Kippur itself, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  (OK, I probably will watch Kol Nidre via webcast, but no, I will not be in the crowd.) I will not subsequently celebrate Sukkot (the Festival of Booths/Harvest) or Simchat Torah (the celebrating of the receiving of the Torah, the First Five Books of Moses, and the time when the Torah scroll is set back to its beginning, the Book of Genesis).  To be frank with you, and when am I not honest in this blog?, I have no interest in being in a congregation right now, at this point in my life.  You see, during the Days of Awe, the  messages that you hear in synagogue repeatedly are “you have to right your wrongs,” ” you have sinned, you are bad, confess your badness,” and “your fate is decided by God during this time; repent so that things can go well for you in the coming year.”  And, my friends, I just can’t take that message.  I didn’t do it well last year, and I kinda don’t ever want to try again.

When you live in the Land of Lung Junk, and you already wonder (although I don’t dwell on it, because I really don’t much care WHY I have lung cancer, I care more about what can be done about it) WHAT ON EARTH COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO CAUSE THIS NIGHTMARE, it’s really not so helpful to hear words that make you think the God you love and believe in handed down a sentence that said, “Hey, Teri—you suck.  Now deal with this major suckage! Have cancer!!!!!”  The God I believe in and am intimate with loves me and supports me through this nightmare, and guides me (when I’m good at listening) through the mess.

I know I’m not perfect.  Lord knows I have done my share of pissing people off and inadvertently hurting them (I really am NOT the kind of girl who does that sort of thing on purpose, I promise I am not!). I try hard to apologize at the time of the offense; sometimes I miss the mark.  But to sit for hours in a house of worship repeatedly being told how bad I am and how important it is to repent “or else,” well, I just can’t manage sparing that kind of time.  I have LUNG CANCER, for heaven’s sake.  I need the message at this time of year to be something like, “You’re not to blame for this cancer.  You didn’t do anything so bad that God would put this burden on you.  God is here for your comfort.  Each year brings you new opportunities, and you’ll find reasons to smile.  But again, you’re not to blame for having cancer!”  Ya just can’t find that message in temple, I’m afraid.

Now, I’m not saying that people with cancer should get a pass when they’re offensive, because, well, we shouldn’t.  We should be as accountable as someone not dealing with some major crisis or issue.  But nor should we be blamed for our illnesses, or our down moments (which can be frequent, harsh, and caused by a treatment), our bad attitudes (because, you know, when you’ve been kicked in the teeth repeatedly by having to change treatments over and over again you’re bound to be a little grumpy), our lack of gratitude for your help (because sometimes we’re really absorbed by the physical or psychological pain we’re in and forget to be grateful; typically we remember eventually), or even our lack of continued faith (because sometimes, we’re just plain angry at our God for our nightmares).  A little latitude is probably in order, you know?

But all that said, let me say this:  If I have offended you by something I have said, done, or written in this past year, and did not apologize at the time I offended you, let me do so now.  I’m truly sorry.  It is never my goal to be hurtful, but I am capable of being so.  I offer you my most sincere apology, with great hopes that I don’t offend you again.  At the same time, as is the custom at this time of the Jewish year, let me assure you that if I have felt offended by you in the course of the past year, you’re off the hook, and I offer you my sincere forgiveness.  Let’s move on, and let’s do so in whatever way is kind-spirited, supportive, and good.

You will likely hear from me again tomorrow evening or Tuesday, as I am having my next scans done tomorrow, and will know if the Vanilla Bean is working, or if I have to yet again change my protocol.  And yes, my excellent brother is back in town to hold my hand tomorrow.  What a blessing!

Until then, I wish you gentleness upon yourself and to others,

Teri, the not going to temple during the Holy Days Flying Elephant



  1. Eileen-
    Wow! What a powerful thing to have done! I’d love it if you could tell me more about that restorative session; it sounds miraculous to me!
    Peace to you and yours- and I’m glad we’ve reconnected, too!

  2. Good morning, Teri. Thanks for continuing to share your journey of faith with your companions of love, fear, courage, wisdom, humility, care, compassion and humor.
    Last week I had a restorative justice session with a young man who participated 2 years ago in robbing Bill and carjacking. 5 members of his family also participated. That sharing was directed by faith. Your blog reminded me that the timing in the year was no accident.
    I have been grateful that we reconnected this past year. So forgive me in any transgressions as we join in this spiritual journey. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of our goodness that God created.

  3. Christina,
    Your comment was indeed overstepping and a bit offensive, but I do forgive you. I realize you meant well. I hope you realize that it’s important to respect other people’s faith journeys, even if they differ from yours.

  4. Dear Teri,
    I am so sorry to hear of all the inner turmoil you are experiencing right now. I am not a Jew but a Christian. Forgive me if I am overstepping, but I feel obligated to let you know that there is perfect peace in the love of Jesus. I’m an imperfect human being washed clean by His love for me. I know no greater peace than this. I can’t help but share this message with you. God bless you.

  5. No worries at all, just wishes for a wonderful new year!

  6. Teri, you have never offended me but if I have offended you, please forgive me. I hope this email, while not in person, will suffice in your eyes and in the eyes of my and your G-d. With love, Barb

  7. Thanks Tina- I appreciate that.

  8. Sending extra prayers for tomorrow’s scans. Praying that God will give you the answers you are praying for.

    I hope you will be returning to your congregation soon for their support and prayers. The decision is yours and must be respected by all of us.

    Good Luck tomorrow! Waiting to hear the results with you.


  9. Thanks, Marci. I am in awe of you and your wide open, generous, giving heart. Shana Tova- a precious, sweet, and heathy year for you and your family!

  10. I’m glad you hear those positive messages; I just don’t. Last year was an especially hurtful experience for me. I’m hesitant to risk that kind of hurt again.
    And yes, I will let y’all know my scan results ASAP!

  11. My Great Grandmother, who only spoke Yiddish, prayed alone standing in a window twice a day. She never stepped foot in asynagoguethat I know of. I learned from her that your God is in your heart and being Jewish has nothing to do with putting on new clothes and going to temple. You have such a big heart and such a wonderful way of dealing with life- you have made me stop and appreciate the small things–like when both heads are asleep in both rooms in my home once in a while. I am thinking of you during this holiday and everyday. Thanks for sharing your insight with me. Marci


  12. If I may be so bold, the message about God you’d like to hear is IS the message you’d hear at our synagogue. “You’re not to blame for this cancer. You didn’t do anything so bad that God would put this burden on you. God is here for your comfort. Each year brings you new opportunities, and you’ll find reasons to smile. But again, you’re not to blame for having cancer!” The message I hear, over and again is: bad things happen for random reasons; the God-thing is manifest in the community’s response of comfort and care (by community I mean: one person, or ten, or an entire congregation praying for your healing).

    It’s very true that the ages-old prayers (especially that ominous “who shall live and who shall die”) are doom-y. And it’s true that we, as a community, are asked to confess to all manner of sins we, as individuals, haven’t committed.
    It’s the drill. But, there are kinder/gentler — much– interpretations of these harshnesses wrought by tradition.

    I don’t mean to — and please forgive me if I did — take you to task. I just wish you can find another “take away” — that of God’s and the congregation’s comfort and caring during these Days of Awe.

    We hope your scans are terrific!!! You’ll let us know stat, right?

    Love and hugs,

  13. Amen my sister!

  14. Though I’m not Jewish, it seems to me that your stance is completely in line with the spirit of this holiday. Perhaps staring at a stage 4 diagnosis gives us the motivation to go ahead and get our houses in order and say those things we always mean to say, but put off. Making amends, speaking my mind, helping those I can, and wallowing in the love surrounding me is my current daily spiritual practice. Seems to me that’s what Abraham, Buddah, Muhammad and Jesus were all talking about.


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