O peoples, bless our God, celebrate God’s praises; the One who has granted us life, and has not let our feet slip. (66:8-9)
Several years ago I met Rabbi Ronnie Cahana while visiting Camp Ramah in Canada. He serves a congregation in Montreal. Our paths crossed because his daughter was in the same age group as my sons. He was warm and friendly. I enjoyed the few days I spent getting to know him, and remembered the encounter. Just a couple years after that meeting, in 2011, he had a stroke. He was paralyzed from just below his eyes down. His mental faculties were intact – a condition known as “locked-in syndrome.” His daughter Kitra recently gave a very powerful TED talk describing how she and the rest of his family transcribed his communication through blinks, which allowed him to continue to share his Torah and his poetry with his congregation and on his web site, rabbicahana.com.
I watched the video of Kitra’s talk . The next day, I received an email from Pam, a college friend whose mother suffered a major stroke early in October. She wrote that she was away from home with her mother for nearly five weeks, taking care of her throughout her recovery and the search for a facility that will be able to take care of her after Pam returned home to her family. Her mom is mostly cognitively intact and cannot move the right side of body, but because she suffered the stroke about 36 hours before she was found and treatment could begin, she will not recover fully.
“Bless God … who has not let our feet slip.” From the first moment that he could communicate, Rabbi Cahana comforted his family and his congregation, assuring them that his experience was a blessing, that he found God within the silence of his body. He continued to teach Torah, he continued to counsel members of his congregation, while in a condition that most of us would have found intolerable.
“Bless God … who has not let our feet slip.” Pam found spiritual comfort in some of my Psalm reflections and other blog posts, but I find spiritual comfort in hearing about the love and strength she exhibits in the face of tremendous hardship. Away from her husband and children, she was willingly taking on the task of caring for the mother who embraced her and cared for her.
I have long disliked the aphorism, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Most of us handle whatever we need to handle, but some of us, overwhelmed, do not handle things well at all. For me, a theology that suggests that God “piles it on” for those who can handle it is perverse. Rabbi Cahana is standing firm and my friend Pam is standing firm; both under very trying circumstances. “Thank God … they have kept their footing.”