Jenny Block learns how we have to take care of each other



When I think of that line in traditional wedding vows that reads, “In sickness and in health,” I used to think, “Of course. You wouldn’t leave someone you love because she’s sick.” But that’s just a teeny part of that vow. The bigger part is about taking care of that person who you love. And that is not always an easy task.

My wife has had three dental surgeries within the last six months: Tooth extraction, bone graft, sinus lift. None of them fun. She has way-too-high tolerance for pain, so her tooth went bad while she was trying to be “good” and not let the pain get her down.

I’m a Jewish mom — literally and figuratively. I will always make sure you are warm and well fed and that you get an A-plus for patient compliance. When someone I love is recovering, I fill my brain with information; I fill the watch list on Netflix; I fill the couch with pillows; I fill the fridge and pantry with food; and I fill every pot with matzo ball soup. I clear my schedule so I can drive to the doctor, drive back home, run out for meds and missed necessities, and keep her company while she heals.

So it came as quite a shock when I took care of my wife for the first time. She hates to be drugged up and fights taking pain meds instead of minding my carefully drawn out schedule. She wants to be alone in the bedroom instead of on the sofa. She wants mashed potatoes and chocolate pudding instead of matzo ball soup and grape Jell-O. Just like when she’s well, she’s her own person when she’s unwell. And I didn’t know how to handle it.

The irony is, I’m my own person when I’m sick, too. I don’t want to hear about ice packs and water for headaches or Neosporin on healing cold sores. I am a by-the-book, old-school girl: Aleve and Allegra and Abreva all the way. I want the sofa. I want a med schedule. I want to do exactly what the doctor ordered.

So I don’t know why it would come as such a blow to me that my wife didn’t want me to take care of her the way I wanted to take care of her but instead the way she wanted to be taken care of.

I did it. I didn’t like it, but I did it.

But more than the doing — like in most instances — the value was in the learning or in the reminding at the very least. In caring for my wife in the way in which she wants to be taken care of, while still assuring that the antibiotics are taken on time and at least Advil is taken so as to not get behind the pain, I am reminded that while she is my wife, she is herself first. Always.

Couples have a way of melding into one, of losing themselves, of expecting one another to be and react and do as we would without remembering that that person was a person before she became half of a couple.

All of the violence and hate pervading our country, inspired by 45, is making me ill. It’s making many of us ill. We all need something different as we work to survive it. My wife goes into protection mode. I go into tears followed by fury. Both are acceptable responses because they are our responses and both deserve respect. It can be hard to care for someone in the way they need. But it is the hard parts of
loving someone that make the journey so rich.

When you get married in your early 20s, you grow up with your partner. You are your own person already, but there is still much change and growth ahead, so you have the chance to do it together. I was 48 when I got married in March; my wife was 54. We knew ourselves, and who we were was pretty cemented. Getting married meant agreeing to crack those walls and make adjustments.

It did not, however, mean destroying them. I am allowed to be who I am, and she is allowed to be who she is, and we can only expect to be loved and respected. We cannot expect the other to suddenly trade mashed potatoes for matzo balls or agree that not everything can be fixed with an ice pack and a bottle of water.

I was a little sad when she crawled into bed and asked me to shut the door. I diligently gave her her meds and gently asked what I could make her to eat every few hours. But, other than that, I had to let her heal her way.

That’s the thing about committing to another human being. We have to love and adapt and respect while still remaining true to ourselves. We must care for others as they wish to be cared for, and we can expect the same in return.

The world is no different. Instead of one couple, it’s millions of people. And, in a way, we’re all in a relationship. We’re in a relationship as citizens of the world. We are not going to agree on how we need to be taken care of and how we should take care of one another. We have to come to a community census. That’s what’s voting is for — fair, unadulterated voting. What comes after that is respect. I don’t have to like who you pray to or who you donate to or who you vote for or the fact that you live with hate in your heart. But as long as you are not hurting anyone, I have to let you live as you wish. The minute you do threaten to hurt someone, or actually hurt them, then you lose that respect and the right to do as you please. It’s really that simple.

My wife has been through a lot. I have a past to contend with as well. In being together, we have chosen to accept and respect those pasts and the people they have crafted us into. The hate and violence we are seeing today grows from a lack of education, an ignoring of mental health needs, a lack of awareness of the disenfranchised. All of that has created a despicable sense of entitlement and hatred and violence. It has to stop and the only way to stop it is to cease making excuses and allowing tolerance of any and all acts of violence or threatened violence. Differences can be tolerated. Hate cannot. Somewhere along the way we forgot that.

Freedom of speech is not about spreading hate. Thomas Jefferson is dead, but you can trust me on that interpretation.

When it comes to how my love wants to be loved, I have a 100 percent acceptance policy. When it comes to how people want to hate and kill and violate, I have a zero acceptance policy. Call me intolerant. Call me judgmental. Call me what you will. But I have no tolerance for intolerance.

And if you aren’t well, I will always make you matzo ball, but whether or not you eat it is entirely up to you.