Why don’t you ever see a concert pianist or an actor yawn or sneeze for over 4 hours on stage?!
Entering the summer season also means the onset of misery for millions of people. I don’t mean the misery of loneliness in the vacation season; that deserves a discussion of its own. What I am referring to here is the misery of the allergy season.
Those beautiful brisk summer mornings, with an ideal barometer and a perfect breeze, also mark the worst possible day for an allergy sufferer. Nothing life threatening, but that first tickle in the throat, and the rub in the eyes signal yet another tormenting summer.
It begins with a tickle and a rub, but quickly deteriorates into a runny nose, and an itchy throat, stuffed ears, violent sneezing, until your entire upper plumbing system begins to drip and leak like the eroded pipes of an old house.
My particular ragweed intolerance began in summer camp in Detroit when I was 16 years old. I never got to the bottom of it, but I guess Fenton had an overabundance of overhormoned ragweed, which unleashed my latent allergic reactions. There went my summers. Year after year, I joined the ranks of those despising summer breezes, and desperately awaiting the arrival of the first freeze. Yes, like so many of my compatriots whom I would meet in bathrooms restocking on tissue supplies, I began researching ridiculous solutions to this annoying nuisance. Maybe I’ll move from mid-August to the end of September (the height of the ragweed season) to some area in New Hampshire, which has been cleared of these plants for hundreds of miles. Better yet: Why not escape to Alaska?…
I developed a new hatred for this invisible plant. What exactly is ragweed? Where can it be found? People call it ‘hay fever’ (why I still don’t know). As I would drive on the highways I would silently sneer at the slender, yellow dotted branches – all ripe and ready to launch their pollen attack. They seemed so proud of their conquest. Sometimes I would get out of the car, and crush a few plants just to make a statement. Hey, I won’t go down without a fight…
It got so bad that one summer day I had a borderline asthma attack, and needed medication to keep my constricted air passages open.
That was it. After the summer I went off to a famous allergist in New York. Dr. Redner must have been 85 years old when I went to see him (or so it seemed to a cocky 23 yr. old squirt). He tested my sensitivities with scratch tests to my upper arm. They scratch you with dosages of various foods, molds, dusts or plants to test your reactions. They then recommend a series of shots for an extended period to build up your immunity to your respective allergies (I don’t know if they still do this today, but that’s how it was in the good old days, ‘before the war’…).
The dust and ragweed scratches triggered in me a violent reaction. My arm swelled up and I literally began gasping for breath.
Dr. Redner reacted immediately by injecting me with a shot of something that instantaneously cleared up all my symptoms. A miracle! Here I was in middle of a gorgeous August afternoon, with a pollen count who knows how high, which regularly would have boded serious aggravation, and all my passages are clear and unfettered. I feel free! Remarkable!
(If you never suffered an allergy attack you may not relate to this feeling. But if you have, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Yet even for you lucky non-allergic ones please read on for a fascinating lesson in life for all of us).
Highly curious – and quite desperate – I ask the good doctor, ‘What did you just inject me with that rid me of all my allergy symptoms?” “Adrenalin,” he answers. “Adrenalin?! Do you mean the same adrenalin that we humans produce when we get excited or panicky?!” “Yes sir,” the doctor responds.
At that moment a thought struck me. For some strange reason I never felt allergic symptoms on Sundays. I always thought that the reason for this was because Sunday was my busiest day of the week. At the time (beginning in 1979 and for 13 years, until the Rebbe’s stroke in 1992) I was the primary writer of the Rebbe’s talks. My responsibility was to listen and memorize hours of the Rebbe’s dense scholarly dissertations, which had to be memorized on Shabbat and Holidays (when recordings and note taking is not permitted), and then research, document, annotate and publish these talks for posterity. We had a small but powerful staff, and my role was the main writer.
Sunday, the day immediately following Shabbat, was my most intense day of work. I was completely inundated by the effort to reconstruct the words we heard on Shabbat. No words can describe the mental exertion necessary to both remember and then commit to paper these complex and diverse expositions.
I always felt that this was the reason that I didn’t experience allergic symptoms on Sundays. Not because I didn’t have any, but because I was so consumed that I was oblivious to them.
But now that the doctor mentioned adrenalin, a new thought came to me. So I asked the doctor: “Is it possible that intense focus and pressure would generate a natural adrenalin rush that would subdue allergic symptoms, just as your injection of adrenalin just accomplished?”
“Why, of course,” Dr. Redner replied. “Didn’t you ever notice that concert pianists, Broadway actors and opera singers never yawn or sneeze in middle of their performance, even if its hours long? A sneeze and a yawn are natural bodily reactions that can’t be suppressed. So how is it that they can maintain such control on stage for hours on end? Because the adrenalin rush produced by the intense pressure of performing on stage infuses a person with another level of control that one usually is unable to muster.
“Adrenalin,” the doctor went on, “in some mysterious way brings to the surface superhuman energy and abilities that are conventionally inaccessible. People in danger, for instance, have been seen lifting objects, fitting into spaces, reaching heights or achieving other feats that they naturally are incapable of.”
“Why then,” I asked the doctor, “don’t you just give me adrenalin to inject myself with every morning when I feel the onset of allergic symptoms?” “Because you would eventually build up immunity to the adrenalin and continuously need stronger dosages to achieve the same result, which would ultimately burn out your system.”
This taught me – and this is why I am writing about it – a most powerful lesson in life:
Having a compelling mission in life is not just good for the soul; it’s good for the body. Health – physical health included – is not merely about oiling the machine, eating right and exercising; it’s about allowing your system to breathe.
It’s about waking up in the morning jumping out of bed with excitement to take on a new day. When was the last time that you felt that way?
We all need a passion, a mission in life – a calling that demands a sense of urgency. This passion not only keeps your mind and heart healthy but it also produces chemicals that actually strengthen your immune system.
Until that day at the doctor’s office I never connected our spiritual mission in life with our physical well-being. That day taught me that there is a profound link and relationship between your body and soul. Your strong and healthy commitments and passions open up new possibilities and access new strengths that otherwise lie dormant in your inner system.
Do we need a better example than this for bridging spirit and matter?
I wonder how many addictions would be prevented if we had a natural adrenalin flow generated by a passionate commitment to our life’s mission.
As we enter the care free and laid back summer days, there is much we can learn from the allergy season.
Was this why I was blessed with allergies in the first place?