My physical preparations for the holiday are similar to every year. We have one fish meal, one meat meal, and have a dairy breakfast kiddush that includes cottage cheese, sliced cheese, flavored yogurts, butter and cheesecake.
I’ll once again be giving a class on Shavuos afternoon for women; this year I’ll be talking about some of the life lessons we can learn from the Book of Ruth (5 pm – 25 Tse’elon St.). It’s an amazing book repleted with many levels of wisdom. I’ll also be sharing some thoughts on Shavuos more briefly at a women’s kiddush on Shavuos morning (10 am – 36 Shizaf St.).
In past years I’ve often felt spiritually unprepared for this holiday, which is foundational to the Jewish people as a marker of the giving of the Torah thousands of years ago. This year, I was sent an incredible growth opportunity that has helped me have my mindset in the right place.
Two months ago, boiling cosmetic wax exploded in my face, coating my entire face and neck. The only thing I could think was, “I’m burning, I’m burning!” When inside the ambulance they asked me to rate my pain from 1 – 10 (ten being the worst), I could hardly think through the pain to answer them. Since I wasn’t screaming in pain I told them a 5.
When I later told my ds15 this, he was incredulous. He said, “Mommy, 5 on the pain scale is when people are still smiling!” If I had been able to accurately say how I was feeling, I would have said a 9; 10 was when it exploded all over my face and I have no reference for anything in my life to that pain. But I couldn’t think through the waves of pain I was in to give an accurate number – I could hardly speak at all. In the emergency room, I overheard someone ask my attending doctor why I hadn’t been given pain medication, and he told them my pain was only at a 5. Later in the burn unit the nurse was shocked that I hadn’t had pain meds in the ER and told me I didn’t have to be a martyr. I told her I wasn’t being a martyr, no one offered me any.
The pain I felt was only a small part of what I was feeling – the terror about what my face was going to look like afterwards was so high that it was even more intense than my physical pain. I’ve shared my thoughts then to find a perspective that helped me manage that fear; now I’ll share what I did to manage the pain.
After glancing in the mirror above the sink where I was splashing my face with water to keep it cool, I saw my skin peeling away and that was terrifying. For a moment I couldn’t breathe and my stomach dropped and I had a horrible feeling of doomed desperation.
My face felt like as if it was literally on fire – an intense heat that didn’t abate. When the ambulance crew came, I told them I needed something right away for my face, I was burning. It took about fifteen minutes until they put wet compresses on my face. I don’t know how I would have managed this if I hadn’t brought a soaking towel with me; this and mostly my thoughts were all that kept it bearable.
As I lay there in the ambulance, I imagined that the burning feeling was actually a cooling, soothing sensation; I pictured God placing cooling gel packs all over my face. Along with the gel packs, I searched my mind for peaceful and pleasant images to focus on… it was hard to think …most images were too hard to hold on to through the pain. What kept coming up were the potted plants on my porch. I didn’t let myself focus on the pain; I kept pushing my thoughts back to the gel pack and my plants. This was my pain medication.
This may sound strange, but when I was burned, I had an overwhelming feeling of God swooping me up and telling me how much He loved me. Time slowed down and things that had been agitating in my mind quieted and disappeared. I’ve gone through other difficult things and it took a long time to see something good about them, but this time it was clear to me from the very beginning that this was sent to me for emotional healing and spiritual elevation.
My face is healing amazingly fast. Two weeks ago I went back to the burn specialist in Jerusalem and asked her how long it would take for my face to be totally healed. She said that everyone is different and it’s impossible to know, and then added, “ But you,” she told me, “the change from when you were here last to how you look now is literally a miracle!” And people who saw me two weeks ago and saw me this week can’t believe the difference since then. It’s amazing.
The burn specialist told me on my first visit that it’s inexplicable that I didn’t sustain third degree burns – she explained that wax usually penetrates an additional layer of skin. I asked her what she attributed this to – was it because I immediately washed my face and kept it moist until I got medical help? No, this didn’t make a difference – she said the fact that I sustained only second degree burns was “your mazal (luck)”. If I had third degree burns, I would have been hospitalized for months and who knows what my face would look like…
And my eyes… I was wearing glasses but the force of the explosion blew wax all over one eyelid and right under both eyes - literally all that wasn’t burned on my face were my eyes and the bridge of my nose where my glasses were resting. When I think of life without vision and how easily I could have lost that …I can’t even think about how good God was to me without getting teary.
This experience has taught me things I needed to learn, things that I’m trying to keep in the forefront of my mind even in the day to day busy living. It’s helped me to let go and trust God more, knowing that things that are meant to happen will happen no matter what. That I don’t have to be afraid of the unknown because He’ll help me get through whatever is coming. It’s helped me to fully embrace the stage of life where I am, living where I do, being who I am. It’s helped me to nurture myself more and love myself more. And it’s helped me to recognize what is most important in life – becoming the person that God wants me to be, through the lens of Torah.
This has been my preparation for Shavuos this year. As I finish writing this, It’s 9 am on erev Shavuos and I haven’t yet started my cooking, my husband hasn’t yet left to do the shopping, and I haven’t yet worked out the specifics of what I’ll be giving a class on. But inside me I feel ready for Shavuos.
Wishing you all an uplifting and meaningful Shavuos!