Someone asked me how I had come up with my “Teacher’s Oath.” “It comes from what surviving my cerebral hemorrhage has taught me.” I told her that when I was 18 years old, in 1959, I played soccer at then Adelphi College. In one game, I cracked my skull and suffered an apparent not-so-severe concussion. What wasn’t apparent, because of the limited medical technology back then, was that I also probably had developed a hidden venal aneurysm in my brain. Lurked during degree after degree, tenure, and promotion after promotion. Quiet during class after class, year after year. Kept to itself during courting, engagement, wedding, births, anniversary after anniversary. Unknown birthday cheesecake after birthday cheesecake. Concealed during sons’ rites of passage. Undetected during grant and publication after grant and publication, resume line after line. Out of sight during physical checkup after physical checkup. Undiscovered during jog after jog, power walk after power walk. Silent during workout with weights after workout with weights. Camouflaged during my epiphany that sent me on my inner journey and during a bout with cancer that took me deeper on that journey.
Then, without warning, bursting, it made its sudden presence felt and appeared in the pre-dawn hours on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the Fall of 2007. Total deafness, completely clogged nose and ears, massive vertigo, profuse sweating. I can’t describe events after stumbling to tell Susie, “Something is seriously wrong.” I have total amnesia from that moment until I left the neuro-ICU wing of UF’s Shands Hospital a week later. I can’t talk of doctor’s office, emergency room, pain, fear, tears, nausea, surgical team on call, hospitals, angiograms, ambulances, gurneys, tubes, nurses, MRIs, needles, IVs, prodding, poking, testing, meds, doctors, interns, friends, family, Susie, Robby, Michael. And while I can’t describe any of it, I can describe my feelings from the very moment I left the hospital to go home.
I had survived unscathed as what the neurosurgeon called “a walking 5% miracle.” Some of my friends later told me not to “dwell on it,”get over it,” and “get on with it.” I couldn’t and wouldn’t get over it; I wanted it to dwell within me. I didn’t want it to recede into the mists of time. I had escaped untouched after seeing my morality square between the eyes. But, I was fortunate that I was not unaffected. The hemorrhage was an ironic gift for which I consciously remain grateful each day.
I immediately experienced and noticed a vivid richness in merely existing, and I didn’t want it to fade. Invigorated. Alive. Alert. Aware. Awed. Attentive of every heartbeat, every breathe. I felt every wisp of breeze, saw every blade of grass, noticed every cloud, heard every note of a bird’s song. I felt a change in perspective I didn’t want to become a vague memory. I was determined for it to remain real and not become a mirage. Days more fully lived in and lived. Intensely mindful that each moment was unrecoverable. Everything slowed down. Everything came into sharper focus. Nothing going unnoticed. Nothing taken for granted. No complacency. No blind acceptance. No lulling comfort, dulling conveniency, and mulling safety. Perception of time altered. Attention lengthened. Awareness heightened. Emotions intensely engaged. Power of grace and kindness exercised. Sights and sounds intensified. Eyes seeing. Ears hearing. Commonplace things become miracles. Every person becomes sacred. No one is divested of her or his humanity. Power of grace and kindness is exercised. Life is lived.
All this applied to myself, to things around me, to Susie, to my sons, to their wives, and to my granddaughters. It applied to friends, strangers, colleagues, and students. There is nothing more dramatically egalitarian than mortality. I had and still have an understanding of the saying, “Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.” I truly appreciate the words to live today as if it is your last.
I’m glad to report that I have successfully halted the natural waning progression from current event, to memory, to history. I worked and still work hard, even upon retiring, to insure that these effects were not temporary as they are with too many who experience life-threatening events but refuse to change their \outlooks and ways. I work hard to live the good life fearlessly, to make sure every evening is a happy ending as each dawn is a new and glorious beginning, to live life before life leaves me, and to know, as the Talmud says, “You are not required to finish the work. Neither are you free to desist from it.” Getting up, getting out, going in, and doing it. Taking hold of life in general and teaching in particular and squeezing it for all it’s worth. That’s from whence comes my “Teacher’s Oath.”