Allergies and the Purpose of Life
Why don't you ever see a concert
pianist or an actor yawn or sneeze for over 4 hours
Entering the summer season also means the
onset of misery for millions of people. I dont 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 Ill 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 dont 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 wont 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
dont know if they still do this today, but thats
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, youll
know exactly what I mean. Yet even for you lucky non-allergic
ones please read on for a fascinating lesson in life for all
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 Rebbes stroke in 1992)
I was the primary writer of the Rebbes talks. My responsibility
was to listen and memorize hours of the Rebbes 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
I always felt that this was the reason that
I didnt experience allergic symptoms on Sundays. Not
because I didnt 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.
Didnt 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 cant 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, dont
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; its good for the body. Health
physical health included is not merely about oiling
the machine, eating right and exercising; its about
allowing your system to breathe.
Its 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 doctors 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
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 lifes 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?