13 Signs
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162 13 Signs Ihave to admit that spending six months in chemotherapy and radiation wasn’t on the top of my to-do list for our year abroad, but if I could rewrite my own personal history, go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t edit out any of it: not the fear, not the hair loss, not the nausea, not the tears. Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it taught me something that I had never really known before, and that is, simply, that I am loved. And when I was finished, and my hair began to grow back again, I knew that I hadn’t been spared in order to set the world on fire or because I’m some kind of saint, but, rather, merely so that I might walk the path I was intended to walk. That I might claim my gifts. That I might, in my own way, sing. God has not yet spoken to me, and I somehow doubt that He ever will—at least not in the way that He speaks to Joanna—in a way I can hear, as I hear my children when, in the middle of the night, they appear at my bedside with a bad dream. On the other hand, I like to think that I heard the voice of God when I heard the women singing at St. Anthony’s, or again, in the middle of the drugged night, when I heard the workmen singing outside my hospital room in Glasgow. I like to think that God sent Gerald to me not as a distillation of the Gerald who once walked the earth but as a symbol of divine love, coming to me in a shape I could understand . So, too, I think God appears in every act of kindness, and in Glasgow , in the wake of my illness, kindness poured down on me like warm spring showers. My friend Debra signed on to accompany me to all eight of my chemotherapy sessions. My hospital roommates and I regularly got together for lunch, and over the course of my treatment I called on each of them for solace and strength. I soon began hearing from both sides of the Atlantic that Catholics were lighting candles for me, Baptists were stomping and dancing, Jews were praying for a refuah shlemah (a complete healing), and in upstate New York my friend Alice’s Buddhist mother’s monk was chanting. My husband told people: “Jennifer’s not taking any chances.” But as far as I was concerned, I was merely asking for help. In Baton Rouge, God regularly makes personal appearances to the faithful and even shows up on billboards along I-10, where He proclaims His Word and then signs off with His Name. My favorite billboard is the one that hovers along a particularly ugly stretch of the interstate between the old riverfront downtown and the petrochemical plants that cluster north of the airport. “Looking for a sign from God?” it says. “Here it is!” Looking for a sign from God? How about the time I was riding to the airport in a taxicab, shaking with my usual pre-airplane anxiety attack, and noticed, on the floor beside my feet, a book called The God Search? What the hell. No one was around. I opened it and inside I read that God was always with you, even when you were certain that He was far away. Was that a sign? Why not? How about the fact that after an almost thirty-year hiatus , I started painting again, painting as I had as a child, my hands vibrating with the desire to hold a paintbrush? How about dreaming in Hebrew? Seeing lightning streak across the sky? Hearing words form in my head and then looking up to realize that I had written an entire short story in the voice of someone I’d never met before? And what am I to make of the lovely if somewhat dotty elderly lady at Beth Shalom who, every time she sees me, clasps my hands in hers and says, “You are a blessing.” Holding my sister Binky’s two baby girls? What about the fact that my mother, despite everything, was still alive when we returned to America, still alive when Sam at last ascended the bimah and became a bar mitzvah? She flew down to Baton Rouge with my father and sat front and...


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