For those who don’t know yet, my mom is in hospice care. After several years of battling cancer, the chemotherapy just isn’t working anymore. To say my mom is the center of my universe and the most important person in my life is an understatement. She is everything to me and I’m devastated to an extent that is hard to put into words. All just months after losing my stepdad David to the very same type of cancer my mom has. Meanwhile, my stepbrother’s mom is battling cancer as well. No wonder I feel like my faith is being tested.

It feels as if on a personal level, I’ve experienced and am experiencing my own personal Holocaust. It’s as if someone waved a wand and threw every bit of crap at me humanly possible and said “now deal with it!”

I could barrel my way deep into the valleys of despair- but that’s not what my mom taught me about survival. From a young age, my mom taught me to find the positive in any and all situations. And I’m not going to lie, with an abusive father in the picture, there were some really dire circumstances sometimes.

But somehow we always found room to laugh amidst the tears. To drive around Potomac and gawk at fancy houses. To count all the Christmas lights on the way back from Hebrew school. To pray. To celebrate holidays. To invite friends and family to our ever-expanding table of loved ones. To always, always, always make room for another at the table.

My mom’s experience – and my own – over the past few years battling cancer has made me think about my Judaism and about what it means to be a survivor. Those of you who know me well know that I’m a bibliophile, a true lover of the written word. So I gave thought to what book of mine represented what it means to survive, to overcome darkness.

I found a Machzor, or prayer book, in my apartment. I can’t for the life of me remember where I got it, but probably in New York or Israel. And the book was fascinating.

The prayer book was owned by someone named Isaac in Brooklyn N.Y. with the date “1936” written in pencil. But the book itself was not from New York- it was from Vienna, Austria. And it was (according to the Jewish calendar date listed on the cover page) printed in 1934. Just four years before Austria became part of Nazi Germany. Who knows that became of the original publishers and owners of this book. I’m grateful it found a safe home in the U.S. with Isaac and eventually with me.

Which got me thinking – what does it mean to survive? After all, the original people who touched this book in Austria – they may not have withstood the Nazi onslaught that was about to engulf them. But their work lived on – and lives on in me every time I turn a page, every time I touch the cover. Every time I utter a printed word.

So too is it with people. My stepdad is a cancer survivor because every time I think of Lord of the Rings or his green thumb or his steadfast support of my family, I bring him back to life. And my mom will always be a survivor because I carry with me the strength that she taught me from the day I was born. My mom is much like this prayer book. Filled with soul. And built to outlast the evil that pursued it – be it the Nazis in Europe or a truly despicable cancer.

Lately I’ve been feeling more spiritual. I can’t quite say what form that takes or is going to take as I continue to tend to my own needs and ponder what’s next for me in life. But I am feeling more connected.

Those of you who know my mom know that she likes to look for the little signs of things going right. Of feeling connected to something larger than any one individual.

Which is why I think it’s beautiful that when I closed the prayer book, I noticed a heart on its cover.

It was as if this was all a bad dream. As if something out there was sending me a sign that it will be OK. That while this situation absolutely sucks and I wish it weren’t happening, that love is what will ultimately tie me to my family forever.

Thank you to all the friends and family who have been there and continue to be there for me and for my mom. We couldn’t do this without you. And I will never forget all of your kindness.

While some people perfect a nice clean crisp book cover, I like mine like this prayer book’s – a little worn. Because it shows someone loved it. So as worn out as I feel, I am happier for having lived this journey and known so much compassion along the way.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Hug your loved ones. The rest is just details.

Author: Matt Adler - מטע אדלר

A compassionate multilingual Jewish explorer. Author of "More Than Just Hummus: A Gay Jew Discovers Israel in Arabic": & Join me on my journeys by reading my blog or following me on Facebook May you find some beauty in your day today. :)

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