I

n the last years of high school I learned how to study; in seminary, how to act. My frequent absences from school had left a hole in my religious education, so at age 18, after a very positive heart scan, my parents decided to send me to seminary inIsrael. 

As a trained observer, I looked around at the girls and realized that each one had her own small secret or weakness she was afraid of sharing. With this understanding, I was able to reach out and connect with everyone, quickly creating a large circle of new friends. In the classroom and dorms, I was the confident center of things.

But on hikes, everything was different.

At the start of the trail, I charged ahead, desperate to prove to myself that I could do anything. Soon, my friends overtook me, one by one, with a quick query if I was okay. As I trailed behind, down another rocky mountain, one friend relaxed her pace to join me. Noticing my thoughtful expression, she paused and asked, “Want to share...?”

What could I tell her? That I was legally blind, and could barely see the step ahead of me? When I had confessed to the tour guide on one trip, she had immediately sent someone to babysit me for the rest of the hike. No, thank you.

Maybe I could tell her that my heart was beating funny and I had no idea if it was okay. I had once confessed to my roommate that I had a heart condition. Since then, every morning when she woke, she checked if I was breathing.

“I have some back issues,” I said eventually. “But don’t worry, I have a chiropractor who helps.” Back pain was understandable at least, so with some sympathetic sounds, she stuck by my side for the rest of the way down

In seminary I became known as The British Kid. I amused all by eating pizza with a knife and fork and used the phrase, “Sorry, I’m English,” when anything I did raised eyebrows — even if it had no connection with my nationality. It was my answer to everything. I had a pile of vitamins in my drawer because that’s what English people do. I was thin because we English are too polite to get fat. I might have pushed it with that one, but mostly, I got away with it.