Today I am recovering from strep throat. Yesterday I was sicker than I have ever been in my life, lying in bed mostly sleeping and when I was awake, feeling all sorts of uncomfortable. Early in the day it occurred to me that as the mom in the family, it is often my job to take care of others when they feel badly. With my feverish mind leading the way, I started slipping into self pity. “No one will take care of me!” Then I asked my husband for help and he stayed home from work to manage the kids and give me the TLC I needed.
But surprisingly, another person stepped up to the plate. My son Sage, who is eight, feigned illness to stay home with the rest of the crew (my five-year old has strep too) and so he was around watching me get sicker over the course of the day.
At first he would come periodically into my room to say hi. Then he wrote me a get well note. Finally he provided his favorite teddy to keep me company. At about five o’clock he came back to see how I was doing and offered to take my temperature. I suggested he read to me. He picked out a couple of books from the kids’ book basket in the hallway and sat next to me on the bed reading. With my head on the pillow I listened with my eyes closed, occasionally opening them to watch him read.
I was comforted by the sound of his voice, the earnest expression on his face as he concentrated on reading aloud, and by his presence. In Judaism it is considered to be a good deed (a mitzvah) to visit the sick. In this essay on the Jewish way of healing, the writer talks about this important teaching.
A fundamental feature of Jewish spiritual healing is bikur cholim (visiting the sick), which responds to two of the greatest burdens of contemporary life: isolation and lack of community. At a time of illness, bikur cholim offers us the comfort of human connection and interdependence, a sense of community we so desperately need.
The mitzvah of bikur cholim helps fulfill the obligation to “love our neighbor as ourself,” and it is required of every Jew (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah: Laws of Mourning, ch. 14). Like comforting mourners and performing other acts of kindness, bikur cholim brings goodness to the world (Avot de Rabbi Nataii 39:1).
With Sage there reading to me, I could feel that there really is a difference in being alone with an illness and having someone there as you go through it. The whole experience is less dark, less frightening. It is a true act of kindness and I was grateful for it.