Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
I believe I have the most beautiful mother in the entire universe. Granted I’m biased, but the truth is that she is nothing short of being a beautiful soul in every way possible.
At this moment, I am sitting in a waiting room at Tampa General hospital while my mom is in surgery getting one of the batteries replaced to her brain pacemaker. At the age of thirty-nine, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which is a progressive neurological disorder. The disease gained national attention when the former boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox went public with their illness. About eight years ago, her disease had progressed to the point where she qualified to receive Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). DBS is a surgical treatment used to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, as well as other medical conditions such as major depression, chronic pain and various other movement disorders. The DBS hardware sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain.
She had her first surgery in 2003 for the left side of her brain, and the second surgery a few years later when the disease had progressed to the right side. The surgery lasts seven hours, and takes an entire team of doctors and nurses. They used incredible technology to listen to her brain waves, and targeted the areas of the brain afflicted by the Parkinson’s. I’ll never forget how during the second surgery, I received a phone call from her while on the operating table, and with her brain exposed. She wanted to let me know that she was doing well and loves me, and to make sure that we have popsicles in the fridge for when she gets home (her favorite post-surgery treat).
The impact of DBS has been miraculous for my mom, and has given her a second chance at life. I am beyond grateful for Medtronic, which is the company that produces various kinds of biotechnology, such as her DBS hardware. When she turns the device off, it is within seconds that her symptoms come back full force, and she is completely debilitated by severe tremors. When she turns it back on, it is incredible how she can just throw on her shoes and go running around the block. She jokes about being a bionic woman.
My mom is a graceful advocate and role model for the Parkinson’s community. Only two months following the first surgery, she ran in the 15K Gasparilla Distance Classic, which totals 9.3 miles. With her hands held high, she exuded tremendous joy as she crossed the finish line of her unlikely victory. One of her greatest passions had been competitive running, and her deep desire to run again was a major motivator to fight the disease. Her other motivators were her family, and the ability to wear high heels again (self-proclaimed shoe addict). A reporter heard about her story, and an article was written that made the front page (above the fold) of the Tampa Tribune. People with Parkinson’s from all over Florida contacted my mom, thanking her for giving them hope. My mom has taken lead roles in the production of major fundraising events for Parkinson’s research. She managed to bring keynote speakers on board such as Rasheeda Ali-Walsh, who is one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters, the American political commentator and journalist Morton M. Kondracke, and the former Los Angeles Times editor and reporter Joel Havemann. Just last year, she walked down the isle to receive her Masters diploma in marketing from the University of South Florida College of Business.
While my mom is a rock star and hero, I know that there are times when she is just trying to get through the day. She constantly has to adjust to the various challenges of the progressive illness, such as loosing the strength to speak and swallow.
The other day she looked at me in awe and with a big smile, and said, “Do you know what a miracle it is that I’m standing here with you?” My mom decides to look at the silver lining of her disease. She believes that it has helped her to be a better person, and has provided wonderful experiences that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Over the years, I have witnessed how as my mom’s body cooperates less and less, her soul becomes more free and alive. She has taught me how the body is ultimately a shell, and the soul is eternal.
I have the most beautiful mother in the entire universe, who has touched and inspired all who know her.
Article from St. Pete Times covering my mom running in Gasparilla:
Article about her going back to school:
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March 4, 2013 | 11:16 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On February 23, I spent the day looking for a good Purim costume to wear to an event that evening. My initial idea was pretty basic, which was to just wear different neon articles of clothing. When I saw that my costume at the local thrift store was going to cost me $66, I put the majority of it back onto the rack. It was time to go back to the drawing board. I decided to expand on the theme of wearing a costume that exudes something bright. I had printed a large image of an activated Tesla coil to wear on my t-shirt (See image of Tesla Coil). Although I was starting to feel excited about my costume, something was still missing. The answer hit me like a lighting bolt… I was going to identify myself as being a divine spark.
According to the ten principles of Judaism found on the website of the Ollendorff Center, “Judaism teaches us that all human beings are created in the divine image and therefore are linked to God by the Divine Spark within them.” Although my costume was a bit eccentric and nerdy, I felt proud because I knew that the idea was born from the creativity of my own divine spark. One of the kids at the celebration even told me I had the best costume that night, and kids know best…
MISSING THE MARK ON MAKING A MITZVAH
At the end of the party, the host mentioned to take a bag at the front door to give to someone homeless. Each bag was filled with items such as food and toiletries.
A couple of days went by and the bag was still sitting in my front seat. One evening as I was walking to my car, I began to feel bad, and wondered if I would have been more aggressive to give it away if I didn’t live such a cushioned lifestyle and didn’t take food for granted. The truth is that I had even forgotten about the bag.
COMING TOGETHER AND CREATING A SPARK
As I approached my car and started to get in, I noticed a man digging in a garbage bin right next to my car. It hit me that this was my opportunity. I pulled the bag out of my car, and told him that there was something I wanted to give him. One by one we went through the bag and pulled out all fifteen items. His face lit up with pure joy over every single item (especially over the back scratcher). He was so shocked by my kindness, and how I acknowledged his humanity.
The street I live on is the second steepest street in LA County. It is where firefighters go to do their physical exercise and train. It’s no joke. Since the man now had some food to get by, he no longer needed to climb up my street going from garbage to garbage. He was radiating with gratitude as we were parting, and then excitedly ran down towards the bottom of my street and disappeared.
“Judaism teaches us how to nurture the Divine Spark within us, elevating us in moral worth and dignity and linking us to The Divine.” The moment that I had shared with the man absolutely nurtured my divine spark. Our paths crossing felt very beshert (meant to be).
THE PHYSICS OF DOING A MITZVAH
A few days later, while walking alongside a major road, I all of the sudden felt a bolt of energy and began to run really fast. These sprints are usually prompted by the sense of joy, awe and gratitude that I have for my life. I feel connected to the universe, and to the moment. As I effortlessly ran, I soared through the air. I totally believe that my own divine spark inspires these moments.
I started walking again after a couple of blocks. All of the sudden I had a hand tap my shoulder. It was a young woman who had seen me drop my keys right as I had started to run, and had been chasing me down the block trying to return them. I was wearing earphones and couldn’t hear her calling my name. She was out of breath and had left her family behind. I expressed a sense of gratitude and relief to the woman, which I imagined was similar to how the homeless man had felt towards me. I was amazed by her kindness, and wondered if it was somehow inspired by the same kindness that I had shown to the man. Is the energy you put out into the universe what you get back?
EITHER/OR TO BOTH/AND
Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was the scientist who has been referred to as the genius who ushered in the electric power age. Tesla was known by many to be either an eastern mystic or a scientific visionary. In my opinion, he was both. I often find that science and spirituality go hand and hand. My experience with dressing up like a tesla coil and calling myself a divine spark, had instigated a current of synchronistic and interconnected events.
As I was sitting in the backyard finishing up the blog, the neighbors little dog ran up to my chair and tried to jump on me. My hand got shocked when I touched his body to block him. The moment reminded me that even little barking dogs have a divine spark, and to not let myself get so annoyed with them.