My Three Other Homes-Jewish, Jewish,
Chapel

By

Leonard Zwelling

I live in Houston, Texas and I love
it.

I do not believe that I have ever
felt more at home anywhere in my life than I do here in Houston. The diversity
of the city constantly astounds. The blend of the crowded and the spacious, the
cement and the trees, the divine and the profane are just the way I like it.

But there are three other special
places for me and I have visited all of them in the 6 weeks before my latest
scheduled round of surgery. I say latest because in the period since 2002, I
have had at least 7 other occasions to feel the sting of the first drop of propofol in my vein and not feel the second (heart, back, neck, back, heart, hernia,
hernia—TMI). Monday, November 16 will be number 8 (hernia number 3).

I have never been much of a gambler
and the late, great Al Maguire, coach of the 1977 NCAA champion Marquette
basketball team, always reminded when a game was looking lost on TV
“Winning only counts in war and surgery.” I agree, but I seem to be
throwing the dice a few too many times when it comes to the latter.

So, just in case, I have visited my
three favorite places other than Houston in the past 6 weeks.

Israel I wrote about extensively on
this blog. It is very hard for a Jew not to feel passionate about the Holy
Land, even a relatively secular Jew such as myself. History leaks out of every
pore of the streets on both sides of the Green Line and perhaps especially just
West of the Jordan, but east of that line. This trip was one dominated by
visits to critically important sites on the West Bank and less the common
tourist destinations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The ancient history of the Jews
is to be found in the West Bank towns of Nablus, Shiloh, Hebron and Jericho,
all places Jews settled before the First Temple in Jerusalem was even considered.
It didn’t matter to me whether or not I was walking the streets among Jews or
Arabs. I was struck, as always, by the resonance today of events that took
place thousands of years ago in places I was standing in the present moment.
Like George C. Scott in Patton, it is like you were there then when you are
there now. It is hard not to feel the enormity of the events that preceded you.
It is also hard to understand how the battle goes on between two groups of
people who seem so alike, Arabs and Jews. After all, they are all Semites,
descended from Abraham and claimers of the same territory, west of Mount Nebo
and east of the Mediterranean. The falafel is great on both sides of the Green
Line. So is the hospitality.

I love this place, Israel.

I also love the place where there may
be more Jews than in any locale other than Israel. It’s called New York City.

I was raised 35 miles to the east on
Long Island, but all of my high school friends considered themselves,
“from the city.” When people ask where I am from, I say, New York.

There, what leaks out of the pores in
the cement is culture, money, pace, and excitement. It does not sleep. Broadway
is still the pinnacle of stagecraft and even the worst of shows offers
something memorable. Al Pacino’s new show China
Doll
will probably sell out even though it’s a bit of a stinker. How do I
know? First, I saw it in previews. Second, it’s opening has been delayed from
November 19 to December 9 for more work. Like perhaps a better play with less
posturing and more real acting. It could be time for Pacino to “get
out” without being “pulled back in.”

It is hard to have a bad meal in New
York and we didn’t. Only in New York can you see a sleeper hit like Hand To God one night and bump into the
star outside the theater the next to discuss the show. I do so love that city
even if I can only take it in 4-day aliquots now. Too noisy. Too fast. Too
young. Too cold. Too many people dressed in black.

We are heading for
Durham, NC today, to the home of Duke University and Duke Medical School. It’s
the BW’s 40th medical school reunion (OY!). She’s giving a very
prestigious CME talk there on Friday afternoon and we have basketball tickets
that evening. This is the place from which the rest of my life after the age of
18 emanated for this is where the BW and I met. It is here that I learned how
to properly eat hush puppies and Brunswick stew and discovered that there were
Jews who lived outside of New York and non-Jews who would be my friends for
life. For me, more than Israel and New York, Duke is holy ground. I can prove
it. Only it has a chapel that stirs my heart like no other, not the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem) or St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue can bring me to tears like
the Duke Chapel can.

So just to be safe,
before spinning the roulette wheel in the OR, I thought I would visit my three
other homes before I came back home on Sunday, November 15, for yet another
stay at St. Luke’s. After all, there are pieces of me all up and down Fannin,
why not get more plumbing re-arranged at the TMC when re-arrangement is
medically indicated?

These places mean
the world to me. They are my world even if thousands of miles from one another.
They are what made me whatever I turned out to be.

I will let others
judge what that is. I have given up as not an objective observer of me.
Mindfulness is no substitute for the view others have of the true shadow you
cast.

The only time I am
sure where I am is on the golf course and can look at the scorecard and see how
I am doing (or more accurately what I have done so far). The next time will be
at my funeral when they play “Gimme Shelter” at full volume and we see who
shows up and what they say. Until then, I will continue to judge my success on
the golf course only. It’s neither surgery nor war and although precise in its counting,
there are no pictures on the scorecard.

Leonard Zwelling