A Walk in the Park by Dan Butler

By the afternoon of Passover‘s second day, my wife had served over 100 meals not including breakfast (meals are served between noon and 2:00 a.m., and consist of at least four courses and two desserts - anything else is breakfast). The last of our guests had staggered homeward and the pressure was off.
You’re probably thinking it was nap lime. No, she wanted to go for a walk. And as long as we’re walking. lets go to the park. And as long as we're going through the park, why don’t we visit the people in the hospital. And since we have so much left over from our holiday barbecue, I've packed up a few things that we can take with us. And that must be the two babysitters l arranged for. Right on time.
Are you starting to get some idea of what I‘m dealing with here? If the logistics of a Passover barbecue for 25 have somehow not fazed you, then you’ve probably never cleaned a gas grill for Passover (don’t try this at home kids, but if you must, three important rules: wear old clothes, avoid inhaling Dow oven cleaner, point the blow torch away from vital body parts).
So, on the first sunny spring day in a city that has only 55 sunny days a year, we were off on the 45-minute hospital walk.
I was carrying the barbecue chicken, the brownies, and the world's only Passover oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies. The extra 40 pounds made it hard to keep up, 'cause my wife set a pretty good pace. So I lurched along in a limping kind of half-run. l barely had the breath to point out that the university medical center has a kosher kitchen that provides all the holiday essentials, so why were we shlepping all this stuff? She stopped short, and fixed me with the laser-powered glare that had vaporized mounds of leaven during our pre-Passover frenzy. I immediately reconsidered my position. After all, it was such a logical glare.
It was actually a beautiful day. The birds, the buds, the tiny little beginning of leaves on the trees, the clear fresh air. “THIS BRIDGE IS CLOSED TO PEDESTRIANS AFTER MARCH 30TH.” The only other way to the world’s largest transplant center took an extra 20 minutes. I couldn't understand why my friend Dave, who had made the walk on the previous day, hadn't warned me about the bridge. My wife wanted to crawl under the barbed wire, but l had visions of arrest for trespassing and transporting Passover brownies with intent to deliver. l insisted we take the longer route. My wife, with some eye-rolling, humored me.
After all, our babysitters had a half-life of two hours (the analogy to radioactive exposure will not surprise anyone who‘s met our kids).
We concentrated on out-of-towners with no local family.
There were four names on her list. The first had just had his second kidney transplant in four years. At 43, he has been blind for 12 years. His wife, also blind, can read Braille. He can‘t though --diabetes has destroyed the essential nerves in his fingers. An actuary by profession, and Torah scholar by avocation, he spent the holiday without the tapes that are his usual reading substitute. Spent the time reviewing a prodigious memory that has enabled him to teach 47 bar-mitzvah kids their Torah portion since he became blind. Ecstatic about his new kidney, he expects to be out of the hospital 10 days after transplant. "It's a good kidney," he says. He jokes about seeing-eye dogs and blindness. We went to him first because we figured he‘d be a downer. He was an upper.
His strict diet prevented him from accepting any food. I smirked triumphantly. The glare flashed again.
Through the tunnel to Children's Hospital. Three little kids with liver transplants, fighting rejection and infection: from New Jersey -- an 11-year-old beautiful wisp of a girl -- number seven of her Orthodox family's 10 children. Her mother, with hair covered in the Orthodox fashion, had been mistaken for a nun earlier in the day by another parent on the floor. The kid perked up considerably when brownies came into view. From Staten Island - an eight-year-old girl whose sparkling eyes and dazzling smile contrast sharply with the yellowish skin that prompts almost daily liver biopsies to pinpoint the virus that‘s blocking her recovery.
Conservative Jews, she and her mother were strictly observing the holiday rules. They were thrilled with Passover oatmeal cookies.
From Tel Aviv - 12 year-old Sephardi back seven years alter his transplant. Bloated with the drugs that had suppressed rejection, but left him open to a serious infection. Somehow his father and he had managed to avoid learning any English in their visits to the U.S. We remembered the kid from seven years ago as "the screamer.” He's a lot quieter now. They were happy to hear even my broken Hebrew. And wild about barbecued chicken. My smirking days were over.
They had made a Seder together. The Orthodox mother of 10, the Conservative lady from New York, and the “secular” cab driver. They have only two things in common: sick children, and an old story, thousands of years old, about Moses and freedom and matzah and four cups of wine. And hope.
On the cutting edge of incredible medical technology, they sat as a little family, brought together by fate, talking about viruses and miracle drugs, and the splitting of the Red Sea.
We had to get back to our kids. After Havdalla, Dave called. "The bridge is closed," he said. "l found that out. It cost us 20 minutes. Why didn’t you warn me?"
"What's the big deal - all you had to do was go under the barbed wire. That‘s what we did.”
She had been right again.