It’s my good fortune to have one friend with an outrageous talent for seeing the world through spiritual glasses. Underneath her gaze, meaningless events, mundane non-events, come to life as messages sent special delivery from on high. Thousands of messages, thousands upon thousands of messages, messages raining down nonstop from heaven in a compassionate, merciful, heavy torrent, but we little people down here don’t feel literate enough to read very many of them, much less pick them up off the ground where they lie scattered, piling up, free for the taking. So grossly do we underestimate our place in the universal scheme of things, we cannot conceive of ourselves as deserving personalized, loving memos from the Creator Himself every hour on the hour.
You know who you are, S—–, and your friends will recognize you, too, of course, because there aren’t many housewives like you on earth. One who takes a late grocery delivery or an angry neighbor, an upsetting phone call or an early delivery, saintly neighbor or cheering phone call each as a divine fax perfectly calibrated to personally instruct and illumine and correct her. But you wouldn’t want me to use your name, for fear of taking excessive satisfaction in the publicity. “When I feed my pride, I pay for it later,” that’s what you’d say, right? So I’ll tell the story and change your name to Sheyna.
One day many years ago, one of Sheyna’s children was being just horrendous. I think that was the word she used. Except for the story’s main gist, and the fact that it involved a tantrum that went on for hours, I don’t recall details. But judging from my own extensive experience with childhood, it would be safe to surmise that one of the boys was being extremely disobedient, noisy probably, raucous, disruptive. Maybe he was tormenting his sisters and had awakened his father from a nap. Let’s throw in some less than respectful remarks to his mother, maybe a few kicks, even, and for good measure (if facts aren’t available, fiction will do) let’s say that for the tantrum’s dramatic crescendo he threw Sheyna’s favorite whatever, a gift from dearest whomever, across the room where it shattered with a crash into a thousand shining fragments right where the baby was crawling.
We’ll call him David. Whatever his age at the time, he was too old for such behavior and too young to be disowned. So Sheyna sent him out of the house with profound weariness, disgust, bitterness, and conveying, if truth be told, a high-intensity rejection in the ugliest maternal tradition. After all, she, too, had become entangled in this wild afternoon free-for-all of the yetzer ha-ra and felt drained, her voice hoarse. The house was a wreck.
She cleaned up. The other kids calmed down. She didn’t want to see his face. Hours passed.
Then she heard something. It was ill-defined, and as faint as a far-off mosquito’s complaint, so she wasn’t sure at first she’d heard anything. But something within her was being tugged. She stuck her head out the window.
She trudged down the front steps and looked around. Nothing.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll describe it now as it appears in my own mind’s eye” Sheyna notices at this point a tiny silhouette on the horizon against a pearly early evening sky, so far-off at the end of the path (in reality, there is no such path near their house) that she thinks it’s one of the kids next door. But even before she can make out the face, she’s seeing those freckles across the upturned nose, the straight blonde bangs sticking damply to his overheated forehead, the scared blue eyes streaming, the Safari Wildlife T-shirt, and suddenly, yes, it’s David running towards her with arms outstretched. “…I’m sorry!…Ima!” and she’s yelling back, “Come, bubbale!” her arms having already stretched out wide on either side. Years later, recalling the incident, she remarks, “I never really believed it till I saw it in myself, but from then on I could understand how it really could be, that even if we’ve been the most disgusting lowlifes on earth, in one second it can change and Hashem will be so happy to have us back.”
“Ima!” The wavering, shrill little voice travels through the summer twilight, and she who had just been as closed shut to him as an iron gate, in an instant – no, in a fraction of an instant – has already opened wider than a thundercloud and let go a warm downpour less of forgiveness (though it is certainly that, too) than of happy yearning for his childish embrace.
Sarah Shapiro’s most recent books are “A Gift Passed Along,” and “The Mother in Our Lives”. She writes for a number of publications in Israel and the United States, and teaches writing in Jerusalem, where she lives with her family. Reprinted with permission from Don’t You Know It’s a Perfect World [Targum/Feldheim, 1998]
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.