My Husband’s Paralyzed Face.
My husband looked awful and I was horrified. He just carried on with no embarrassment, life as usual.
A few years ago God sent me a test.
One chilly February night, my husband, Gadi, and I were joyously dancing at the wedding of close friends. We came home tired but happy. My husband had been complaining of an earache that day and even asked a doctor at the wedding to take a look in his ear. There wasn’t much we could do for his discomfort and he eventually he fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning and started getting the kids ready for school, preparing lunches and doing the usual busy morning activities. I noticed my husband was still in bed. This was unusual; he usually wakes up early to go to shul. I gently tried to wake him and then went back to helping the kids get ready for school.
"Eve, I can't close my eye. I can’t move my face… I can't smile.”
That’s when I heard him call me. "Eve, something strange is happening to me… I can't close my eye. I can’t move my face… I can't smile.”
Sure enough, there was my husband sitting up in bed, trying to wiggle his face, but only half his face had any movement. After a quick Google search, we self-diagnosed his situation as Bell's Palsy, a form of facial paralysis that causes an inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. Often the eye cannot close. We read that 10 percent of people with Bell's Palsy do not fully recover.
Gadi's eyes were red and tearing from the dryness. His face looked scary. He tried to smile, to show me it was going to be okay, and I burst out crying. I was in a state of shock. I was waiting for him to just snap out of this. But he didn't. He couldn’t. I begged him to get back into bed and rest.
At the time, he was under a lot of stress and we read that Bell's Palsy is often stress-induced. I told him to get back into bed and rest. I would make an appointment with his doctor. He remained in bed and I left to take the kids to school and carry on with my day. A few hours later he walked into the office at the JCC to prepare for his class. When I saw him, I jumped out of my seat.
He looked awful! I was horrified for people to see him looking like that, horrified for him and for myself. I wanted him to hide until everything went back to normal. “Maybe you should put a big brown paper bag over your head!” I said half-jokingly. But Gadi wasn’t embarrassed. He just wanted to carry on with life as usual.
The next day Gadi was planning to give the class to my Thursday ladies’ “lunch and learn”. I felt so uncomfortable. He taped a black pirate’s patch over his eye and it kept falling off. I told him that he could take a rain check. He insisted on teaching as if nothing was wrong. He had to hold up half of his face in order not to slur his words. I sat there in my friend’s living room, holding back my tears. The women in the class were throwing me pitying glances. But Gadi forged on, giving the entire class.
I sat there feeling so miserable about my husband’s appearance. Yet, I also felt such pride in his refusal to give into that ailment and not to let it get him down. My emotions were on a roller coaster; I was both saddened and impressed.
This continued for six long weeks. The doctors, and we saw quite a few, said it was impossible to know how long the symptoms would last. They were hopeful that he would recover but it was going to take time. He was very weak and needed to rest a lot. He was taking heavy steroid medications and undergoing acupuncture. As challenging as it was on him, I was the one who was taking it terribly hard! I cried so much during those weeks. I was a complete wreck!
Even though my husband looked “ugly” on the outside, he was still beautiful, kind and gentle on the inside.
But our kids barely noticed it. They loved their father just the same. They weren't frightened or repulsed by his look. They snuggled close to him and wanted to be around him, just as always. Even though my husband looked “ugly” on the outside, he was still beautiful, kind and gentle on the inside.
Hiding behind the Mask
Purim was approaching and I tried to throw myself into the preparations. We joked about dressing up as pirates and wearing black patches, just like the one that Daddy wore over his eye. As a family we decided to dress up as ugly ogres. Our home was filled with laughter which helped considerably to relieve my stress and tension.
Things started feeling a bit better. I felt it was going to be okay. Under that “mask” was my beautiful husband, Gadi. I started to ignore the stares we got in the street. I didn’t mind being out with him in public. Let the world see a beautiful person, not from his external appearance, but from within. And slowly but surely, Gadi’s face started to improve.
I know that God put me through this test in order to grow. Seeing my husband’s “mask” enabled me to more deeply appreciate his internal beauty, his true essence. And there I was hiding behind so many masks. I had to emerge. My main one was the perfectionist mask. And boy, is that a heavy mask to uphold. But there are many masks that I’ve worn over time...the overachiever, the good girl, the people pleaser, the cool kid, the victim, the jokester, the savior, the martyr...I have a whole box of masks.
Masks are used as a coping mechanism to shield ourselves from the world. It is not always a bad thing to wear a mask. Sometimes it is necessary as a protective measure in a world that can be very harsh and has unrealistic expectations of us. But how often am I in a mask? How does it serve me? When do we feel the need to put on a mask? By and large young children don’t wear masks. They’re happy just being their authentic selves. It’s only when the world around them criticizes them and cuts them down do they start adding layers to fit in, to protect themselves from harm.
We know when we are being our true authentic self or not.
On Purim, we dress up in costume. Why do we have this silly custom on such a holy day?
The Hebrew word for clothing is beged. It is the same root as the Hebrew word bo’ged, which means “traitor.” Our clothes often betray who we really are. The way we dress can easily misrepresent the person. By dressing in costumes, we are making a declaration, as if to say that our clothing is just a misrepresentation of our true self. God is much more interested in our true inner essence. It's who we really are inside that counts.
So this Purim will you let your masks down and show up as the real you? I know firsthand how difficult this is. I know all too well the feelings of being judged and the fear that come along with putting it down. But I have also experienced the sweetness of giving the world and your loved ones the real you. The world needs you. This Purim God needs you.