Deepak Chopra advises to act with focused intention and detachment from results. Sometimes that opens a space for results greater than imagined, such as today.
Our daughter, Becca, was advised by her doctors at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital to schedule the delivery of her son a full month in advance of the due date. Hers was a high-risk pregnancy. It would require the presence of two surgical teams—one to deliver the baby by Caesarean birth, and the second to perform critical surgery on Becca to assure her welfare. Aside from the serious medical challenges, we also realized that a traditional Brit Milah might be impossible. We could not predict how long the baby would be kept in intensive care, when he would be discharged from the hospital, or when he would be healthy enough for circumcision. A lot of alternative scenarios were contemplated, but no decisions could be made in advance of the facts.
Some facts emerged yesterday, as we learned that the baby was to be discharged today, and his circumcision was scheduled for 10:30 a.m.—coincidentally on his eighth day of life. We did not know if the designated doctor would allow any family members to be present, nor if the moment would allow for any ritual observances. Nonetheless, I set my intention on the best possible outcome by preparing a brief Brit Milah service with the customary prayers printed on a handout for any and all attendees. At most, that would likely be restricted to the baby’s parents, two sets of grandparents and, of course, the surgeon.
Fate seemed, at first, to be unkind. Heading up to San Francisco from Palo Alto, Route 101 was jammed. GPS suggested an alternate route that would barely get us to the hospital in time even if parking and getting through security were seamless and timeless—which they never are. Moreover, Becca texted that, in a rarity, rather than being behind schedule, the medical staff was actually moving the procedure up fifteen minutes. In addition, only the parents would be allowed to be present during the procedure. No way would we be there in time, even if it were only to hang out nearby. Rather than tensing up, cursing the traffic, the hospital, and God, and not even mindful of Deepak’s words at the time, I somehow naturally adopted his philosophy and allowed myself the liberating feeling of letting go. “It’ll be fine,” I told Debbie.
After more than an hour and a quarter on the road, we reached the hospital at 10:30. I dropped Debbie off at the entry and headed for the parking structure. Miraculously, a space opened up before me on the second level, unlike the previous visit where I had taken the long serpentine climb to the tenth and uppermost level before finding a spot.
When I arrived in the baby’s intensive care room he and his parents had not yet returned from the procedure. Our machatonim, Steve and Cheryl, were there along with Debbie, and a chaplain who just happened to be paying a visit at that time. I told her what our hopes for the morning had been, and that I had even prepared some prayers for the ritual. She readily understood and quickly added that she was Jewish. I suggested that perhaps we could all perform the service after the fact, but that I had forgotten to bring some wine for the Kiddush. She volunteered to search for some, presumably in the spiritual care office.
Soon after the chaplain departed, Becca, Josh, and the baby arrived. To our surprise and delight they described how the pediatrician assigned to the procedure happened to be Jewish. While many babies are arbitrarily circumcised just before leaving the hospital, Becca mentioned to the doctor that today was actually the baby’s eighth day, and that they were hoping to say a few prayers. The doctor was delighted! She had a little boy of her own and could relate. Moreover, despite having performed thousands of circumcisions, she had never done one on the eighth day as commanded, let alone with the traditional blessings. She asked Becca to email her the service that I had sent to Becca the night before, in order that the doctor print copies of it for their use.
The service begins with the milah prayer that is customarily said by the mohel. Under the current circumstances I had little hope that the doctor involved would be up to doing that, so my notation in the handout was for that prayer to be offered by the “Surgeon or Parent.” This surgeon, however, did not hesitate to speak the words,
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha-milah.
Becca and Josh were sitting just outside the surgical room. Their vision of the baby was obstructed by the doctor, but they were within earshot. They responded with the translation,
Blessed are You, Adonai, guiding spirit of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and ordained circumcision.
After performing some technical preparations, the doctor informed Josh and Becca that the circumcision was beginning. That was their cue to say,
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l'hakhniso bivrito shel avraham avinu v'sarah imeinu.
Blessed are You, Adonai, guiding spirit of the universe, who has made us holy with Your commandments and commanded us to bring our son into the covenant of Abraham our father and Sarah our mother.
There it was—all (or certainly most) that I had truly hoped for—the ritual of circumcision with the requisite blessings!
We waited some time for the chaplain to return with the wine, but the exigencies of the baby’s needs as well as some follow up appointments of Becca’s, forced us to move ahead with the remainder of the service without the Kiddush. (I suspect that the Kiddush here is designed to make wine available for the baby’s comfort as much as anything else! Our baby was peacefully asleep at this point so we were quite willing to continue without the wine.) We moved on to officially give the boy a name. With parents and grandparents all in attendance, I read,
Eloheynu v'elohey avoteynu v'imoteynu, kayem et ha-yeled ha-zeh l'aviv u-l'imo, v'yikarey shmo b'yisrael Shmuel Etan ben Yehoshua v’Rivkah. Baruch atah Adonay, koreit ha-brit.
Our God and God of our fathers and mothers, sustain this child for his father and mother. May his name in Israel be called Shmuel Etan son of Yehoshua and Rivkah, and Samuel Eugene Shapiro in English. Blessed are you, God, who establishes the covenant.
I couldn’t say if there was a dry eye in the room as I was too filled with joyful emotion to observe. We all recited the Shehekheyanu, expressing gratitude to be alive in that moment. Josh and Becca lay hands on their son and recited the priestly benedictions. And lastly, and again with much emotion, Becca recited the Gomel prayer—words of gratitude for surviving childbirth, serious surgery, or, as in this case, both.
If we had had perfect foreknowledge of all the factors influencing this morning—the timing of the procedure, the traffic, the doctor’s religion, the hospital rules, etc. we could not have planned a more deeply experienced, heartfelt, and joyous sequence of events. I knew when I arranged the service folder and sent it to Becca that it would seem like too much to orchestrate given all the other physical and emotional challenges of the day. In an attempt to relieve her of the feeling that I was pressuring them to do more than was desirable or even possible, I had texted her last night, in complete honesty, “Prepared for the full range of possibilities. No worries.” That range was from absolutely no ritual observance, to the possibility of doing what was written on the handout—if not in the hospital then perhaps later at home.
Deepak was right. The intention was set. The outcome was left open to circumstance. Our patience and fluidity led to the consecration of this precious boy that exceeded all expectations. Baruch hashem.