The following post by Repair staff member Talya Gillman, originally appeared on Maryland Hillel’s Blog for Change
“Nurses breathe for infants during Sandy hospital evacuation”; an article I read in the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the east coast. It described how nurses and medical professionals from the neonatal intensive care unit at a New York City hospital descended nine flights of stairs (the power, and therefore elevators, were out) carrying the babies while simultaneously – and manually – pumping breathing bags that enabled the infants to stay alive while wind and water raged outside. What a way to be welcomed into the world, the city – and lives – being ravaged by the storm, causing terror and chaos for those in the most affected areas.
And yet: what courage; what kindness; what generosity the nurses enveloped those little humans in. I like to imagine that those are qualities the nurses breathed into the babies as they made careful journeys down those steps. I like to think about the choices they made that night (that so many made that night) – to remain at work when they might have been home with their own loved ones, to act boldly in the face of danger in order to support those more vulnerable, and to do what was needed when circumstances were tense and stakes high – and how these choices created the possibility that the infants will grow up to engage with the world in similar ways; in ways characterized by the qualities that saved them.
These images make me think back to the first months of my brothers’ lives. Twins, they were born three and a half months prematurely – extremely sick at birth – and they, too, were cared for by ever-watchful and committed nurses. Once they came home from the hospital to begin their miracle-lives, my parents began a weekly tradition that many Jewish parents carry out each Shabbat, of reciting the ancient blessing, “May God bless you and keep you. May God shine [God’s] countenance upon you and be gracious unto you, and may God bless you with peace.”
And it occurs to me that as Sandy stormed, the actions of the nurses in New York were an actualization of this blessing. The nurses were breathing life and the best of humanity, the closest thing to “Godliness”, into the infants. Regardless of what we each perceive “God” to be or represent, the blessing is about a universal truth; that beyond health, safety and happiness, our lives should also be marked with meaning. And such meaning comes from making certain choices; owning what it means to be human, and responsible. When we act courageously in the face of adversity or injustice, when we commit ourselves to the causes of people marginalized or more vulnerable than ourselves, and when we join in efforts to address the societal needs that visibly and silently surround us, we serve the most essential and meaningful cause there is: one another.
In the aftermath of Sandy’s ruin, young people have dispersed throughout the east coast to “breathe life” into devastation; to breathe comfort into despair. Through their service, they, too, are carrying out the blessing. Let us learn from their example, and the examples set by the nurses and hospital workers who cradled the newborns with compassion and care. Let us commit ourselves to, now and throughout our lives, to acting in the ways those individuals have in the wake of disaster.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is not to be afraid.” But I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to realize that at the end of the day, it’s all right to be afraid. The most important thing, I believe, is that we help one another across that narrow passageway.