How are You?

My friend wrote from the sunshine state. How are you doing in the pariah state? When it’s the caller from the electricity company asking how I am, I know she is not interested, so I answer simply and briefly, I’m dying. But when a friend asks I pause to think. He’s asking because he cares. How am I doing? In general I look about me for clues. How are my loved ones? If they are suffering, I know it before enquiring. I know it bodily. My waking thoughts and my restless dreams ache with loving futility.


Well, friend in the sunshine, my firstborn is about to undergo major surgery. The surgery will disable her for a couple of months. She’ll deal with pain whenever she moves her shoulder girdle. Merely to brush her teeth will hurt intolerably. Do you wish to know more? She won’t be able to care for her children. A sole breadwinner, she’ll be unable to win her bread. How’s she doing through it all? She’s dealing with thoughts of disfigurement. She’s alarmed by stories of unbearable pain. But she reminds us, ‘I’ve got the cancer gene, but this surgery is not cancer; it prevents cancer.’

My other children? Number two child has been locked down since February. He’s working from home and he’s loving his household of women, who range down in age from his wife, to his newest, aged four months. He lives in the joy of watching his offspring bloom, and he chafes that he cannot share his loved ones. He’s the bridge between generations. He wants to share his little ones with his elders. He grieves for deprived grandparents, for a great grandmother in her extreme age (‘How many years has Nana left to enjoy, to know her little ones?’); for his siblings too. He knows his little ones are deprived. He’s a bridge and a virus has closed the bridge.

Number three lives in Sydney. Six months have passed since she last saw or touched a parent or a sibling. Six months in the life of a person permanently in exile from family. During those months she’s been diagnosed with cancer, undergone surgery, been cured. In a few weeks she’ll undergo the same cancer-preventing surgery as the firstborn.She subsists with a dozen face time calls a day, but the loving flesh, the warmth of presence, the sharing and the feeding (we celebrate her as a baker and a chef), these she aches for. And as we plan and we cancel plans, and we plan again, the novel virus comes between us. In short she suffers minor cruelties daily; she’ll suffer major surgical cruelties shortly and, God willing, she too will be saved from the genetic cancers that haunt our womenfolk. Overall, good friend, too much detail? I apologise. Our children are brave and loving and they fret for their parents. For us. Golly! Perhaps that was your question. Perhaps you really asked, How are YOU doing? Once again I look about me. I see my wife, a Jewish mother responding to threat by overcatering. Between working at home and trouncing me at Scrabble, and caring for her mother, she overfeeds me and she cooks and packs endless meals for loved ones all about. I feel cared for and loved. I feel safe.

But how am I? In myself? By temperament I tend to be cheerful, optimistic, sometimes vacuously so. But nowadays periods of gloom descend, circumambient fear visits me. My work sustains me with a rewarding sensation of being useful. I enjoy the glow of self-worth. I run a lot and I purge fear and gloom. And I drink plenty of strong coffee which transforms me into a cheery genius.It feels absurd to pity myself in a time when so many suffer so much worse. But if – as the Talmud asks – among the cedars the firestorm falls, what can avail the mosses of the wall? If happy howard is downcast, how much more suffer the cheerless many?

12 thoughts on “How are You?

  1. ❤❤❤❤❤
    One each for you, Annette and your beautiful children.
    ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤
    Many more for all the ones that each of you have created and/or found to love and be loved by.
    My arms are wrapped around you all virtually.

    It’s OK to be downcast Happy Howard. I hope you feel the love and lean on others to support you. It’s your turn.

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  2. What I can say Howard is, I truly understand all that you and your family are experiencing. This time in our lives is making things so much tougher, because families can’t be there in person for each other as they normally would. My love to your girls, and all of you at this very difficult and challenging time. You and Annette are wonderful parents, and all that you have shown to your family, by example, will hold them in good stead on their journey. Pat and I were talking today, and we had missed hearing from you, now I know why. Love to you all, I hope the future is “golden”. Love Janette xx

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  3. Howard, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Ears are always at the ready, eyes are always open; lips will only move when asked to do so.
    Sharon’s been fighting ‘the beast’ for more than 5 years. We understand what you’re all going through. 0412563481 if needed. May God give you all strength, love and understanding.

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this, Howard. I live mostly in fear. Like you, I look for hope and happiness where I can find it. I find myself angry and unable to sleep. I shall think of you and your family today. I wish I had more to offer.

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  5. Howard,
    This has saddened us greatly. Sending you all bucket loads of love & strength.
    The strong love & bond you have with your daughters, will help them through their surgeries & pain.
    Life is certainly a challenge, in this Covid crazy world.
    Take care Howard,
    Bev & Wayne

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  6. Dear Howard
    Thinking of you and how hard it is for you to be seperate from loved ones in this most difficult of times that seems so full of health issues for your family. When I saw the your friends mention of the pariah state I mistakenly thought you were going to comment on the media take on Victorian situation. From someone who lives in the state often ridiculed by the media this could have been an interesting angle…maybe food for thought on another day?
    Sending love and good running vibes
    Kirsty

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  7. Howard, dear Howard, you have shared with us, your friends, your vulnerability, your sadness, your grief and your longings…..there is so much more. We are honoured and privileged that you have trusted us and included us on this journey which you never for one minute thought you would be on.
    There are two words, amongst many, which come to mind.
    Comfort…..and Restore…..
    That shall be my prayer for your family.

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  8. Having such love is the greatest boon and also brings the greatest potential for pain. May the fates treat you and yours as gently as possible in this testing time. You have spent a lifetime giving others strength, so if friends ask after you (and you have friends across the globe), allow yourself to lean on them for a space. That’s what we are for.

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  9. Poetic as always Howard. Virtual hugs for you and the family, especially the girls during this time. I know exactly the pain your daughters have felt, but I also know that it wasn’t without my parents nearby, and I hold light for them and all of you as we live with this wobbly gene , this isolating virus and all it’s varied implications; and for what we are grateful for and the world is grateful for stories like yours. xx

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