As I was contemplating Elul and the 40 days of change, I was reminded of a story that was told me three decades ago. It was so profound to me, and I have never forgotten it after all these years.
I was told the story by a doctor who was treating me for a serious and life-threatening illness. It came to me at a time in my life when I was open spiritually and emotionally and my suffering had made me an eager student of life’s lessons.
The doctor told me that he had been the physician for a woman who was dying of lung cancer. He had treated her for several years and the time had come for her surrender as she had done all she could to live. The cancer had finally taken over not only her lungs but her body as well.
The doctor received a call from her family asking him to come to her hospice bed because she had something she had to share with him and she was adamant that he come. The doctor agreed to stop by so that she could deliver her last words to him.
When he arrived at her bedside, she told him that she had been given a gift and that she felt she was to pass the gift on to him. His job would be to pass this gift on to others and he would intuitively know who that should be.
She shared with the doctor that she had been given a dream. The dream was so real to her, and it contained a profound message. Her last act this side of the veil would be to pass the message to others.
She then began to tell the dream to the doctor. She said that in the dream she was walking down a street and it was a beautiful day. The clouds in the sky were fluffy white and the sun was bright. The temperature was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. She was walking down an alley in a residential neighborhood that separated the back yards of the houses and she could see up into each back yard as she walked the alley.
As she passed houses along the way she came upon a house with a large back yard. In the back yard up close to the house was a large upholstery chair with an old man with long white hair sitting in the chair. In his lap a cat was sitting, and he was gently petting the cat.
The woman was so confused because the cat was screaming so loudly as if he were being tortured and yet the old man stroked the cat ever so gently. The woman could see that the old man was speaking softly to the cat, but she could not hear what he was saying because she was too far away to make out the words.
In her curiosity she dared to walk up into the back yard where the old man was sitting with the cat so that she could hear what he was saying to the cat.
As she got closer, she could see that the old man was petting the cat against the grain of the cat’s hair and the cat was having none of it. You might say that the old man was rubbing the cat the wrong way. Now close enough to finally hear and understand what he was saying, as he stroked the cat ever so gently, he was saying ever so softly, “turn around, turn around, turn around.”
As the doctor finished telling me the story the woman had given to him, he said, “My patient gave me this story as a gift as she was dying. She said I would know who to entrust it to and I am giving it to you to entrust to others.”
I was overwhelmed with gratitude for such a sacred gift and the message was clear.
For me, the message was about certain laws in the universe that are in affect whether we like them or not or believe in them or not. As a person of faith my interpretation was that the Creator of the Universe has some of those in affect and if we try to have it our own way, we may find consequences at play that we will not enjoy.
Like the cat, there have been times in my life when I wanted God to fix things in my life and dispel the law of gravity for me so to speak. But I found out that I must learn to deal with life on life’s terms and that I could not control every detail of my own destiny.
I would struggle, and scream and hiss and accuse the Maker of the Universe of not caring, being too harsh and causing me pain. When all I had to do was simply turn around.
That is what Teshuva is about. It is about turning around. I guess I will call this the Teshuva story. I am so grateful I was given a profound and priceless gift from a dying woman that has powerfully impacted my life. And now I have given it to you. What does it say to you and what will you do with it?
Dr. Qaumaniq Suuqiina