Wednesday, December 12, 2007

by Michael Segal

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and joy on earth -- a time of giving and of "warmth." Many celebrate the day, the birth of Jesus, at church, followed by a sumptuous meal and then by opening gifts that are under the Christmas tree. Still others celebrate the day by volunteering, helping those who are less fortunate, at various food banks, shelters, or hospitals. I will never forget one specific Christmas. I work at Memorial Hermann Hospital, primarily in the Neuro Trauma Intensive Care Unit. Being Jewish, I also worked at other locations of the hospital that day so that my Christian coworkers could spend time with their families at home on Christmas. Walking through the large hospital I saw many sad families in the many waiting rooms that day. I could imagine them all screaming, " What kind of Christmas is this? Spending it at the hospital?" However, as I knocked on Room 623 on the oncology floor, I met Mrs. Hunter and I soon learned that everything is relative. "Hi, my name is Mike Segal from Case Management. Is there anything I can do to help you? May I come in?" I asked those questions to an 87 year old cancer victim who, according to the chart, would soon be transferred to a Hospice so that she might live out the remaining weeks of her life more peacefully. Mary, her daughter, said, "Please come in." As I entered the room, Mrs. Hunter uttered in a soft hoarse voice, "I still need a straw." Mary quickly explained, "They delivered this Ensure (a very high caloric and vitamin drink) for mom but they didn't bring a straw. We asked the nurse for a straw a few minutes ago, but this is Christmas and I don't know when the nurse will bring it." I excused myself and rushed down to the cafeteria where I grabbed a handful of straws. Knocking on the door again, I was greeted by Mary's huge smile as she saw what was in my hand. "Thank you so much. It seems so small, but for mom the straw is such an important thing," Mary said as she put the straw into the Ensure that her mother quickly began drinking. Mary then wished me a Merry Christmas. "May y'all have a very peaceful Christmas too," I said as I started to leave. "Before I go, is there anything else I can do?" With those words, the 87 year old Mrs. Hunter quickly asked in a soft voice, "Can we sing some Christmas carols?" The question startled me. Besides, I wasn't sure if I knew the words to any carols. However, I quickly replied, "Of course, I'd love to." Mrs. Hunter automatically started singing, "Jingle Bells, Jingle BellsS" and I quickly joined in, followed by her daughter Mary. Mrs. Hunter then started, with Mary and myself, singing two other Christmas songs. Some Jewish people might be asking, "How can I, as a Jew, sing Christian songs?" However, for me the answer was crystal clear. Judaism believes in the sanctity of life. If I could do anything to help Mrs. Hunter enjoy her last Christmas, I was going to do it. The preservation of life takes precedence over everything else in Judaism and "preservation of life" may be interpreted in many different ways. That day I interpreted it as bringing a smile to the face of a dying woman. As we concluded our songs, Mary, with tears in her eyes, said, "Thank you so much. God bless you and Merry Christmas." "Merry Chris tmas to you and your family as well," I replied, feeling the true spirit of the holiday's season.

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