Bizarre occurrences and upsetting incidents are more common than sweetness in a newspaperman’s life, but I experienced one of those sweet moments at the end of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel’s networking event at Atlanta Jewish Academy in early September.
While I gathered up my camera, notebook and cellphone-as-voice-recorder a few rows from the stage, the dean of the kollel, Rabbi David Silverman, came rushing over with a big smile and a greeting that included a handshake and a kiss.
Rabbi Silverman was not just being friendly or grateful that I was there on behalf of the newspaper. He of course delivered a lesson before moving on to other familiar faces.
He observed that I was always taking notes and acknowledged that doing so could help me remember what was said. But he wondered whether all the writing prevented me from contemplating and understanding what I was hearing.
Like all good lessons delivered to not-so-good students, that 10-second teaching from Rabbi Silverman was quickly forgotten but not gone. It settled into my subconscious, only to emerge this week while I observed my 46th birthday. (I’m not sure middle-age birthdays are cause for celebration, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
In this week’s Health & Wellness section, two stories bring home Rabbi Silverman’s point: I’m hearing what people are saying, but am I so focused on presenting the information that I don’t bother to think about it myself?
One of the stories is about the arrival of flu season. Dr. Jason Schneider of the Emory School of Medicine and Grady Memorial Hospital explains how we can reduce our risk of catching the flu bug and minimize the consequences if we do get it.
Of course, the No. 1 recommendation for me and you (unless you’re reading this while younger than 6 months old) is to get a flu shot — something I have never done. Why bother?
As a healthy adult, I’m at low risk for complications if I get the flu. I don’t hang around with a lot of toddlers or retirees, so the risk of passing along the virus to a more vulnerable person isn’t high. The shot doesn’t work all time and was less than 20 percent effective last year, and who wants to deal with the side effects? Besides, I figure I’m more likely to catch something while waiting in a doctor’s office for the shot than I am to get the flu in my everyday life.
I’ll have a hard time overcoming that last thought, especially given my irrational dislike for doctor’s offices, hospitals and other health care facilities. But if I stop and think about Schneider’s overriding point — the flu is so miserable and the shot’s side effects so minor that even a vaccine with a 20 percent success rate is worthwhile — I have no rational reason to say no to the vaccination.
The second story brings home a more important reality if I bother to think about it.
I spent two hours at the William Breman Jewish Home on Sept. 25 to learn about planning for end-of-life decisions, and I’m forced to admit that I’m no more prepared now than I was at age 18. I’ve never had The Conversation with my wife and kids or with my parents about everyone’s preferences regarding lifesaving medical care and dying with dignity. Not only don’t I have a living will, but I don’t have a final will either.
If I’ve actually learned from Rabbi Silverman, I’ll be calling a lawyer soon and perhaps having an important if uncomfortable conversation with my parents next time I visit. If not, well, at least I’m thinking about thinking about things.