My father has a weird Jewish expression that I grew up hearing constantly. It’s “Lo Aleynu” which means “not to us” which really means “whatever terrible tragedy you were just talking about should never descend upon our lucky heads.”
So if someone had (please whisper this word) cancer, it wasn’t just (please whisper this word) cancer, it was “lo aleynu cancer.”
Lo aleynu divorce, lo aleynu problems with their kids, lo aleynu not such a good year in the toy business.
The idea I got from all this, when I was young, is that we were more fortunate than everybody else. Everyone else could have something bad as long as we did not.
Of course this is not what my father meant at all.
The reason I bring this up now, is that my little girl had open heart surgery today. We spent the whole day in the lo aleynu hospital, waiting for our turn, crazed when it actually was our turn, and then on “shpilkes” which is a GREAT Yiddish word you should know, while the surgeon cracked open her tiny five- year-old chest, stopped her heart and lungs, sewed up the penny-sized hole in her left ventricle, restarted her heart and lungs, closed up her body and came out to the waiting room with a very enthusiastic smile and accepted, ok endured, my very enthusiastic hug.
And yes, I still believe we are very fortunate.
And not just because the surgery was (thank God) successful.
Because I saw a boy today who was on his sixteenth surgery. He was three-and-a-half. And I met his parents who schlepped from rural Pennsylvania and are spending weeks and weeks in the city, and staying at Ronald McDonald house because it’s only 35 bucks a night and the social worker here at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital arranged it for them and their other little son whom they try to keep quiet in the waiting room.
And because I met a very orthodox woman whose nine-month-old is on his second surgery this week; the infant’s tiny, pitiful hands wringing themselves silly as he lay all intubated and wrapped in gauze bandages.
And because every room around here tonight with its ICU monitors blinking red, green, blue and yellow (believe me, it’s not as pretty as it sounds) holds a fitfully sleeping child and a desperately-trying-to-sleep adult curled on the narrow window ledge, with a nurse carefully checking vitals by flashlight so as not to disturb—when suddenly, BEEP!--and the parent jerks up—and, well you know, that parent wasn’t really ever sleeping at all.
Because now, I see we are all in this together. And lo aleynu is NOT my kid versus your kid or my business versus your business.
We are fortunate because we understand that modern medical science is the greatest thing in the entire #$%*ing world and that we are true beneficiaries here in NYC, and that saying lo aleynu or really believing in lo aleynu isn’t really going to stop anyone from having, as my little girl did, a Ventricular Septal Defect. And just because someone else’s kid has, lo aleynu, a Ventricular Septal Defect, my kid could still have it, too.
Today I realized that lo aleynu doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen to my family. It means that it shouldn’t happen to any of us.
Your children are my children.
I am ashamed that I ever thought otherwise.