| Musings |

I Need a Shadow   

         “I didn’t eat nuts! I ate a salad! Who puts nuts in salad?”


ou’d have thought I’d have learned my lesson.

Especially since not much time had passed since that memorable sheva brachos that landed me in the ER with an itchy rash not only all over my skin, but also inside my throat, making me feel like it was closing up. I was afraid I’d soon have trouble breathing.

“What was the culprit for this reaction?” asked the nurse conversationally, trying to distract me from the IV she was slipping into my vein.

“Cashews,” I said, undistracted.

“Nut allergy?”

“Uh-huh,” I said, as she mindlessly taped the needle onto my wrist while I watched, highly mindful.

“You didn’t know you were allergic to nuts?” she asked.

“I did! My mother discovered my allergy when I was a year old.” And this was my daughter’s sheva brachos we’re coming from, I wanted to add, but I was too itchy and my throat lining felt too thick for me to explain.

Her eyes widened in surprise. “What made you eat nuts, then?” she asked.

“I didn’t eat nuts! I ate a salad! Who puts nuts in salad?”

She gave me a funny look. But with trained tact, she “hmmmed” as if I’d just asked a very intelligent question.

“Feel good,” she said, patting my hand. Then she moved on to the next patient.

After which, the high doses of antihistamine and cortisone and whatnot dripping into my arm promptly put me to sleep.

And, apparently, a state of forgetfulness.

Because there I was, just a short time later, at another event, biting into an innocuous-looking wrap that I instantly discovered held poisonous venom in the form of — what was that? Techinah, maybe, which contains sesame. Or hummus, which also contains sesame or… it could be any number of things, but most definitely something in the nut family. I raced to the bathroom, where I was safely out of polite company, and spit out the objectionable food. But it was too late. I could feel that awful sensation in my teeth, my palate, my gums, my tongue, my throat, my stomach.

Oh no, I groaned. Who’s in the mood for the ER today?

I rinsed my mouth and took a glass of water, and then a glass of orange juice, and then a cup of coffee to get rid of the taste. The taste was gone, but the stomachache lingered. It lingered all through that evening, as speaker after speaker spoke words of inspiration, like how we should maintain our self-discipline and not keep falling into the same rut.

As the time passed, I was relieved that there was no outbreak of those awful blistery, bubbly hives, and no trouble breathing. But the stomachache refused to leave.

It kept me awake all that night, as I filled up hot water bottles and pressed them close and tossed and turned, wondering why that tiny morsel of unknown matter was clawing so fiercely at my stomach walls, desperate to escape. “It was just a tiny drop!” I tried to message my intestines through quantum energy healing or whatever you use to communicate to your insides. “Why all this rejection? Leave it alone!”

“You only have yourself to blame,” came the reply in a low, rumbling voice. “You know you can’t eat anything you want! Where’s your self-control?”

And then, finally, I got up and threw up. Relief coursed through my body. The undesirable elements had been successfully ejected.

And it struck me.

I need a shadow.

I was approaching 50, a proud mother and grandmother, a sensible woman, a small business owner, and I needed a shadow. I’d need to take out a classified ad. Wanted: Shadow for middle-aged woman to keep her from eating nuts.


I imagined my companion, a matronly figure like myself, accompanying me everywhere, peering over my shoulder in the supermarket, slipping eyeglasses on her nose just like I do, to study the ingredients of the packet I’m holding. “No!” she’d say firmly, taking the cookies out of my hands and putting it resolutely back on the shelf. “Almond essence.”

She’d stand next to me at every kiddush, party, and social gathering. “No!” she’d stay, nudging me away from the buffet table while the people I’d be schmoozing with would look on in surprise. “You don’t know what’s in that cheesecake. Oh yes, I know what you’re going to say; it’s just graham cracker crumbs and cheese filling. But remember the last time you said the same? Remember where that landed you?”

And I’d have to concede and obediently return the cheesecake. For shame.

I pushed the idea firmly out of my mind. I don’t need a shadow, I assured myself. I’ll remember the sheva brachos and the numerous other times I hadn’t listened to my gut, and I’ll never, ever touch an unfamiliar food item again. Never. Bli neder.

Now, I’m that rare breed who religiously reads the Fundamentals column in Family First but hardly glances at Family Table (hence my hazy concept of what goes into buffet fare.) What I do know is Rebbetzin Suri Gibber’s familiar line: Everything in the physical world has a parallel in the spiritual world.

I sadly have poor self-discipline when it comes to eating food that should be treated with suspicion. My self-discipline doesn’t fare much better on the spiritual plane. Not too long ago, I klopped al cheit with much sincerity and promised myself and Hashem never to do that anymore. It didn’t take too long and I was at it again.

It would be pretty useful to have an alter persona walking beside me all day, warning me to stop yelling, stop saying something I’ll regret, be patient, be kind. It would be a great deterrent. But also a downright nuisance.

C’mon, what do I need it for?

The delicious taste of forbidden foods is so very fleeting. And the awful repercussions… so not worth it.

I don’t need a shadow.

All I need to do is remember the repercussions.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 831)

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