Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Unit of One

I arrived home to an empty refrigerator. Within a day or so it was full. The cleaning woman arranged for by National Insurance did a massive shopping trip for me and made me a pot of soup and a local chesed group brought me prepared meals. None of this diminishes the fact that I came home to bare shelves, save for those items that I bought and carried in myself.

In retrospect, this was the worst. I say in retrospect because at the time, it was not so bad. At the time, it actually felt rather cool. "Look how tough I am! My roommate does not have time to pick up milk and cottage cheese for me? Who needs her? I can take care of myself". After two weeks of being completely helpless and dependent, any chance to be self-sufficient was a delight. Looking back, however, I find the scene to be absolutely horrific. The mental image I have of myself—a pathetic, battered, blinded creature, being gently led up the stairs to my apartment as I clutch in my free hand a small sack of groceries—is so pitiable that it makes me want to cry.

This is not to say that people did not care. The opposite is true. From the very first day, people I knew and people I had never met showered me with gifts, help and offers of more help where that came from. Friends and strangers, individual volunteers and big organizations all pitched in to aid in my recovery and recuperation. They filled my hospital room with chocolate, flowers and stuffed animals, filled my prescriptions, arranged for my phone to be replaced and offered (and gave) financial assistance. My friends and my roommate's friends made sure that my days and evenings were packed with visitors. My American friends helped to keep my quieter moments entertaining with packages of large-print books and books on tape. Since the damage to my eyes made reading Hebrew tiring, the director of a local Anglo community center took a few hours out of his evening to come over and read to me the National Insurance pamphlet explaining my rights. And since I could not see well enough to venture out alone, friends, volunteers and one National Insurance home-help aide all took time out of their days to accompany me to the hospital, the bank, the mall and anywhere else that required going to. My every need and desire was provided for, be it scarves and headbands to cover my bald spot, dental floss and deodorant, or a night out at a Chinese restaurant.

Everything was filled save for my refrigerator. It could have been full. I know I could have asked someone to go shopping for me. Any number of people would have been not just happy, but literally thrilled to help. But asking for help is brutal and accepting help is worse. It makes no difference whatsoever that that the request is justified. It was all I could do to ask my roommate, and when she could not (I think she was out of town), it was almost with a sense of relief that I said to her and to myself "well, okay, I will do it myself". And so I did. When a friend came to visit me, I asked her to walk me to the corner store where I bought cottage cheese and milk, by myself and with my money.

Since that day, I have undergone four surgeries and one radiation treatment. I have become a sort of expert in the art of coming home from the hospital. Before I leave, I always make sure that my house is clean, that my laundry is all done, a pot of soup is cooked and that my refrigerator is full. Each and every time, this process of cooking soup and filling the refrigerator has the same exact effect: to fill me with melancholy.

About two years ago, I had a conversation with a man whose daughter was seriously injured in another bombing. He described the battle they had waged with National Insurance in order to get her certain benefits. At the end of his story, I looked at him. "Tikva had you to do all of this for her. She did not have to any of this?" He responded in the affirmative; whether he felt disappointed or chastened by my response I am not sure. He expected me to listen to the conversation, hear what he said about the fight they had waged, to compare it with my own, somewhat lackluster fight, and to be impressed. Instead, all I heard was the word "We".

More recently, in the fall of 2007, a co-worker's wife became seriously ill. My co-worker spent several weeks at his wife's side in the hospital. As chance would have it, this was around the same time that I underwent two surgeries on my eyes—another remnant from the bombing. The first surgery involved my being hospitalized over Yom Kippur, when the roads are literally closed. The second surgery required only an overnight stay; I did not bother to tell people I was being admitted. As a result, a good chunk of this time in the hospital was spent visitor-free. I had this in mind when I spoke to my co-worker on the phone. Even as listened to him describe his wife's condition and made all of the correct responses, in the back of my head, again, all I heard was the "we". She was not going it alone.

We did this. We hired a lawyer. We submitted forms. We are stuck in a hospital. Not Tikva, even though it was her injury. Not my co-worker's wife, even though she was the one who was sick. The family, the husbandwifemotherfathersisterbrother together. We.

"We", means that that the two or three or four….are actually a unit of one. "We" means that help is received by right. Help is received on demand, or even before demand. But I have no we. I am my own unit of one. In my world, help is for the asking.

I have to ask, to beg, to grovel. To ask means it is not self-evident. To ask means that the "askee" can say "yes" or "no". To ask means that it is charity. To ask means that I am a charity case—either because I cannot do on my own or because I lack anyone to do for me. My unit has only one. To ask means that the help will be limited, in accordance with the schedule and the needs and the personal strengths and weaknesses of the person being asked. I cannot demand. I cannot expect. I can only…ask.

And how much can I ask, anyway? Can I really ask another person to put his or her life on hold for a day or two days or a week to sit with me in the hospital? Can I really ask another person to put his or her life on hold for a month in order that she or he be available to come with me to doctor appointments—all so that I do not have to spend hours lining up individual volunteers to do accompany me to each and every appointment? Can I really ask another person to go to bat with National Insurance for me, to do all of the paperwork for me, to deal with all of the doctors for me? To deal with this whole stupid mess? Can I really ask another person to be with me all of the time, so that when I finally break down, there is someone there?

The day I finally broke down, really broke down, I had no one. The stress of the bombing, the medical issues, the administrative mess…everything…had been building up for weeks until it exploded. Over Shavuot I had a meltdown. My roommate was freaked out and pretty much useless. I sat by myself in my room, hysterical, my door closed so I would not disturb my roommate. Suddenly, there was a knock on the front door. By chance or by miracle, Lior and Yael had popped over; Lior’s candle had gone out; could he get a light from Pnina? As soon as Yael saw my state, she ditched Lior and stayed with me until I calmed down. I cried all weekend, and all weekend, like magic, people just appeared. Edith came over. My cousin Talia called—it just so happened that she was going to be in Jerusalem—a once in a blue moon event. Maybe she could stop by? They saved me.

Can I really trust in and depend on G-d to always send a person when I need them?

I hate to be dependent on another. Even when it is God.

Even G-d has His limits. Yes, I have help and yes, I have support…right up to the door of my house. From that point on, I am alone. There is only so far my friends can accompany me. Without the aspect of obligation, without the "we", we remain our own, separate units. As much as my friends love me, they can turn me and my bombing on, and also off. At a certain point each day, everyone, the friends, the volunteers and the well-wishers all go home and leave me alone with this mess and everything else I did not ask for.

If I never marry, this is what I will miss most: the comfort of knowing that some things are self-evident and do not have to be asked for. B'ezrat haShem, with the help of G-d, I will always be able to manage but this is what I will miss: the feeling of being a part of a functioning unit, instead of the dizzying, hollow sensation that I am the unit— a unit of one. I am alone.


Anonymous said...

Being single is very tough. Being single thousands of miles away from your family is even tougher. Adding to this your trauma and injuries is mind boggling.

This is why the army has a policy of finding a "mishpacha mi'ametzet" ("adoptive family") for single soldiers without family in Israel. The Anglo-Saxon community in Israel should organize something similar for single olim.


Anonymous said...

WestBankMama is right. There SHOULD be a way to organized adoptive families like that.

My heart goes out to you and if I were in Jerusalem (I'm in Hod Hasharon), I would totally help you. I've been there and done that already with another family member anyway.

So it's not the same, but you have virtual friends who are holding your hand, and in case it's any comfort, the virtual ones, while basically incapable of physically helping you, are here to hear you and try to help where maybe sometimes your real-life ones can't. You've already won us over.

By the way, I thought of you on Thursday. I work in the news and I was updating my blog throughout the time we were on air. I mentioned you in passing here: http://realisrael.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/6-injured-not-35/ (I didn't have time to go to your site and find the post I wanted to link to, so if anyone knows where it is, please let me know and I'll update the post.

Anonymous said...

Er, it won't show the whole link, so I'm updating it in my screenname on this post.

Risa Tzohar said...

Being single and alone in a 'foreign' country is not easy, even if it is Israel, even if you have 'adoptive' family/families/friends.
You don't come on aliya by yourself - like you did - if you don't have an image of yourself as being able to manage and thrive.
I know, because I did it too.
But being married doesn't always mean 'we' are going to share responsibility all the time. It just isn't always so. Relationships aren't always so perfect, and believe me, lots of times when you're married you have to ask for things that when you were single and thinking about it, you would have assumed would come naturally.
That's just how it is.

I am amazed at your ability to look back and analyze these feelings and share them with us. As as I learn about you from these posts, and you are a very interesting and perceptive person, I learn about myself as well.
I hope you continue to write and share and find happiness and peace of mind here in Israel.
Risa Tzohar

Shoshana said...

You don't have to be in Israel to be a unit of one. You put it more eloquently than I probably ever could have, but I know exactly what you mean. And it terrifies me.

Anonymous said...

A little secret, I'll share just with you: at the end of the day, we are on our own, even if we are married. Sure, a spouse can be an advocate, an aide, an extension of one's self. You can't deny that.

But when it really comes down to it, most of us don't like being dependent on someone else, and no one really, truly loves to be the perrenial crutch. Even if it's never spoken or fully felt, this co-dependency can spawn resentment. Whether it be in things financial or medical, a spouse would sometimes rather go it alone than ask a "favor" from their better half. Yes, there are unspoken IOUs.

It's almost better when there is a rotation of friends who can help. That way, the burden can be shared widely over time. Depend on any one person for too long, and it's a recipe for resentment.

Ahuva said...


At least you have the courage to say "I" and to be a unit of one. I always say "we"-- "we" could mean this friend or that friend, whomever I happen to be clinging to at the moment because I'm too afraid to stand alone.

'We" means that help is received by right.'

You have the right too, you know. You give so much to everyone around you. It is not charity to ask for what you have earned through friendship and years of giving to others. You have every right to expect others to help you as you have helped them. You have a network of people who love you-- and you have a right to that and all the support that comes with it. No, it's not the same as a husband, but it's not exactly the same as being totally alone either.

Begging is when you don't pay into the system and want it to support you anyway. You've been paying into the system for years before I met you and you *deserve* the help that comes out of it. You earned it, so it's okay to ask for the help that is your right.

Anonymous said...

It just depends on what one thinks how to reach complete fulfillment of his or her personal life.
The "we" thing is a deal between family or relatives to help a member of the pack because this too could happen to the others.
It is a form of survival.
Those we's are you's forming a cluster, you might be wondering how many people do envy you Gila, you are independent and can do whatever you want, except spitting on the street.
The thing is, YOU HAVE TO FIND/MAKE PEACE WITH YOURSELF, trust me, things are going to be okay.





Unknown said...

" ... instead of the dizzying, hollow sensation that I am the unit— a unit of one. I am alone ... "

as a collective Jewish family, and even as a 'human' family, we aren't really as 'alone' as we think,
but sometimes we push people away ...

the 'charity' term you use in your blogpost, is an inaccurate translation of Tzedaka

Tzedaka is more literally connected to 'Righteousness'

to help you, or anyone else in similar circumstances,
it is simply the RIGHT thing to do,
and allowing people to help, to be part of your extended family, is allowing our humanness to find its best expression ...

as awkward as you may feel about accepting,
some of those who want to help, may feel more awkward about 'intruding'
(although this may be an excellent opportunity for a Tikkun of the common Israeli forwardness)

now, if only there could be a way to e-mail the cooked soup and supplies to your kitchen ...

(computer geeks,
where are they when you need them 8^) )

Baila said...

Wow, Gila that was a powerful post.

When my daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening illness a few years ago, and then again last year was critically ill, a friend of mine gave me a gift.

I was always uncomfortable with asking for help, as most of us are, and of even accepting help that was offered. When I was myself was ill at 22, I didn't need nor accept much (except for friendship). But now, with an ill child, I didn't know how I was going to take care of her, continue to work (because I needed to), and still care for my other children.

But then my friend gave me that gift. She said, "Baila, people want to help you. They want to that chesed (kindness). They have an opportunity to do a tremendous mitzvah. Why would you deny them this?"

This friend is not particulaly religious.

As far as the I/We goes, it is a comfort to have someone beside you in times of crisis. But you can still feel very alone, even if you are a "We".

You write so beautifully. I hope that in writing and sharing all of this you are finding some peace.

Anonymous said...

Illness and/or injury were triggers for serious depression in my single days. I was also B"H blessed with friends who were more than happy to help me out but just having to ask when you are already down and in pain is very difficult.

And even when nothing was wrong, sometimes I'd think on a Friday that something could happen to me and nobody would know until I didn't show up for work on Sunday.

It sucks to be alone when you can't take care of yourself. Just magnifies all the pain.

thanks for sharing your story.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Hey Gila,

If it weren't so late, I'd write a whole post about the topic of help (which is something I've wanted to write about for a while).

I just want to address all the comments that minimize the difficulties of being an "I", instead of a "we".

Yes, it's true, that in some ways we are all alone. And, yes, it's true, that our friends help us all, in all sorts of ways.

But it is infinitely different to be an "I" than a "we".

I am going through what I'm going through as a "we". And I couldn't imagine going through it any other way. I am eternally grateful for the other half of my "we".

True, there are difficulties as a "we", from which you are free as an "I".

But the benefits far outweigh them.

I guess, despite everything, I am very lucky. Because I am not an "I" going through this trial, I am a "we". And my partner has provided immeasurable support.

It is brave to write what you wrote.

It is hard to go through these things on your own, even with the many friends and family who support you from near and far.

I pray that you find your soul-mate and discover the "we" that you are looking to become.

Jack Steiner said...

To ask means that I am a charity case

Remember there is a difference between a handout and a hand up.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of that when I was reading your earlier posts of being in the hospital. How you managed after your father went home. How you managed when you got of the hospital. My heart ached for you, just imagining it. (I think I mentioned that in one of my comments.)
I come from a line of "units of one" (orphans, children of single parents) and the underlying message was always that if we mangaed to make it our own that you should too. But I think that in all families every individual is at some level on thier own. Even if you claim or demand your right to your units help, there is a price for that, that you could eventually be expected to pay back. And, you risk being reduced to the weak member.

Whereas if other people have a choice and help you becuase they want to it is up to them.

Also, being part of a larger unit can sometimes make your load very heavy to tow. Whereas if you are just carring your own you are much lighter and quicker. As I am feeling at the moment.

I was not able to make out until now if you do want to get married or not. But if you do, and Be'ezrat Hashem find your partner soon, you will find out that being a unit of one also has it's benefits. Yehuda Poliker says it well but the other was around: "חופשי זה לגמרה לבד".

SaraK said...

Got here from Shoshana. What a powerful post. I know exactly how you feel.

Tzipporah said...

Oh, Gila. I hope that someday you get that feeling of "we," however it happens for you.

As others have said, though, don't count on marriage to automatically create it for you.

One of my ongoing dumb arguments with Bad Cohen concerns whether he should know to do things automatically, when he sees that it needs to be done, or whether I'm expecting him to read my mind. :)

aliyah06 said...

Ah, this hit me in the gut....when young and single, I wanted to be non-dependent on anyone; couldn't ask, couldn't be 'weak', couldn't be 'co-dependent', had to be 'strong' and 'independent' and 'self-reliant.' I hated being just normally sick--having the flu was a pain because it meant being 'weak' and having to go to the store and pharmacy while sick and yucky.

A neighbor gave me a gift--late one night I wanted to load the baby into the car and drive to the store to get bottle liners--I was out. She looked at me like I was nuts. "I'll go" she insisted. OH NO!--can't ask anyone else to do what I should do for myself. "Don't be ridiculous," she scolded. "Let people help you. People WANT to help other people--it makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel useful. I'M going to the store--you sit right here." And she did.

I learned about letting others have their mitzvot; I learned how not to be Supergirl. I learned that my circle of friends is "we" whether or not that included a husband (today it does, but healthy marriages don't depend on a spouse alone).

I suspect that most of the people who read this blog would be love to be friends with you -- not because you got hurt and need pity (you don't) but because your sense of humor, your take on life and people, your honesty all recommend you to us. I'd be honored to be part of your "we" in your circle of friends.

You are NOT alone!

Anonymous said...

aliyah06 wrote:
"I suspect that most of the people who read this blog would be love to be friends with you -- not because you got hurt and need pity (you don't) but because your sense of humor, your take on life and people, your honesty all recommend you to us."

I can't speak for anyone else, but that certainly describes how I feel. I've been an avid reader since I was pointed here a few weeks ago, and regularly find myself wishing I could meet you.

RaggedyMom said...

Excellent, eloquent account. You are truly brave.

Gila said...

Have had a crazy couple days so no chance to respond to the various comments. In general:

1) Everyone who would like to be friends with me--thanks! :)

2) I do have a fantastic group of friends, who help me as much as they are able--and as one can see from my blog, they are able to do quite a bit.

3) I do realize that marriage is not perfect....but still, most of the married people I know would not trade places with me.

4) If I died on Friday, no one would find me until Sunday...am completely with you. That has gone through my head more than once.

5) Tzedakah/Jewish family--the truth is that this experience has made me feel more secure in a lot of respects. I tend to be something of a fatalist (hope for the best-expect the worst) but in the years since the bombing, I have been able to comfort myself with "you have gibui (backing)".

Unknown said...

"...4) If I died on Friday, no one would find me until Sunday...am completely with you. That has gone through my head more than once....."

If I died, no one would find me until several days after that. That scenario is one of my nightmares too.

Anonymous said...

"If I died on Friday, no one would find me until Sunday..."
That's how my grandmother died. But it was on Monday, when we got the Fire department people to beak down the door.
She was found on her recliner with the TV on. I think she probably died happily watching late night TV. There are worse ways to go if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

aliyah06 wrote:
"I suspect that most of the people who read this blog would be love to be friends with you -- not because you got hurt and need pity (you don't) but because your sense of humor, your take on life and people, your honesty all recommend you to us."

I agree with that completely as well.

Batya said...

That's some post.

As Ari said, not all marriages are full "we's."

You know where you stand, take nothing for granted.

Anonymous said...

i think that there are alot of people who go from we to we (ie from their parents home to their own home) and therefore dont really know what 'I' is.
although ive been married more then 18 yrs i still remember making aliyah single when i was 20 and being an 'I'. ive had times when married friends who made aliya with children say 'oh your so lucky you made aliya single'. ok yes it was easier in the sense that i came with 2 boxes and didnt have to deal with schools for kids etc but i was an "I" not a we in a new country on my own and they just dont get that.
may you be zocheh soon to be a 'we' and not understand how anyone who is a 'we' can REALLY compare himself to an "I".
would you give us your full hebrew name and permission so those of us who would like to can pray for you ? (out of love, not pity)

Gila said...

Full Hebrew name=Gila Daphna bat Yohevet Esther.



WashingtonGardener said...

I'm gritting my teeth spitting mad reading your comments about Natl Insurance and an assigned cleaning woman!!! WHEN will my fellow American wake up and DEMAND Universal Health Care.