3. Why

Definition of “anticlimax”: my trip to the lab last Monday for blood tests to determine if I can get to the next stage of being a possible bone marrow donor. I barely slept on Sunday night. It made no sense; this isn’t a competition, the result will have no impact on my health, and it’s just a few vials of blood. Ordinary. But symbolically it felt like a whole lot more.

The lab was a small, dismal room in an office building. The staff consisted of one woman doing double duty as office manager and phlebotomist who seemed to move at the speed of light from shuttling people in and out of the crowded waiting room to staring, Zen-like, at everyone else who complained about the wait. “They told me to be here at 8! It’s now 9! Harummph!” I had put an “away” message on my email, so reminded myself that I was in no rush even as the minutes ticked away.

Finally it was my turn. “Is this your first time here?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered, bending over the counter so I could lower my voice. Because there was no buffer zone at all between the Front Desk of Inquisition and the rest of the waiting room, we had spent the morning inadvertently learning about the medical conditions of all our fellow patients. Although I was proud to be a possible bone marrow donor, I didn’t think it was anyone else’s business.

“Bone marrow test? Did they send you a package? Oh, wait, here it is!” she yelled from under the desk, loud enough to be heard in New Jersey. “Room 2.”

Room 2 was the size of a closet. I sat down and she opened the FedEdx box, extracted a stack of documents and vials wrapped in bubble wrap, and gave me a form to sign. I didn’t even feel the needle go in, and suddenly five vials were filled and shoved back into the box. She handed me an envelope with my name and “Thank you! [smiley face]” written on the front. Inside was a brochure reiterating much of what I had learned online (minuscule odds of being chosen, up to two months before you’ll hear back, etc.).

And that was it. I walked out into the rain back to the bus stop, and attempted to put it out of my mind. (But I was reminded again this morning when I noticed a nasty bruise in the crook of my arm.)

At services this Shabbat the rabbi spoke about questions. Not just once but twice is Passover described in the Torah as a day when children ask, and parents must explain. It doesn’t say “if your child asks” but “when”: questioning is an integral, essential part of Judaism. Yet with regard to my possible donation, there is little point in asking why my tissue type might match some stranger’s, because there’s no answer; the situation just is. My image of God in this case is like a parent: “Because I said so.”

Or maybe we’re all asking “why” and petitioning God constantly, like the Israelites pleading for freedom, only we don’t know it. God hears our unspoken desires to connect, to fulfill our purpose as human beings by reaching out to other human beings, and figures out clever ways to make this happen even when we’re not paying attention.


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