“Wait, wait for me,” my two year old plaintively cries. He scrambles up the stairs as fast as he can, but his graceful older sisters far outstrip him. They have already climbed the stairs and disappeared around a bend somewhere on top.
“Wait, I’m coming too.” He’s nearly in tears now, face sweaty from exertion. In his rush, he misses a stair. He falls and bangs his knee, but he’s too focused on his goal to stop and cry. He regains his balance and keeps climbing, begging them to wait all the while.
I stand on bottom, watching, and decide to exercise my maternal prerogative. “Girls,” I bellow in a voice half the neighborhood can hear. “Wait for Sruli.”
Finally, I hear a reluctant, “What Mommy?”
“Wait,” I say emphatically, “Sruli wants to come too.”
“OK,” I can hear the impatience in their voices. “We’ve waiting. Just tell him to hurry already.”
Sruli is panting from effort, but he finally makes it to the top. I watch with satisfaction as my older daughter takes his hand and walks with him to the park. He’s beaming.
He’s made it.
My kids occupied for the next few minutes, I walk back into my home and sink onto the couch. Maybe I’ll actually manage to read a bit on this long Shabbos afternoon before they come trooping back demanding snacks and entertainment.
But instead of my book, it’s my son’s face I see, strained and pinched. I hear the poignant cry of “Wait.” And it brings me back to another scene.
I was in a miserable frame of mind when I went to shul one Friday night. I had been attending Kabbalat Shabbat in that particular shul for a number of years. I loved the slow pace and the beautiful singing. Even the view was special; as I looked out their large windows, I could watch the fiery orb of sun dropping beneath the mountains of Jerusalem. If I strained my eyes, I could almost see the Shabbos Queen as she slowly descended upon this holiest of cities.
I immersed myself in the words of the ancient prayers, and could feel my body letting go of the worries and fears I carried all week. Shabbos was here.
Then, during the short break between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, I spotted her. We’d been friendly in high school, but then I had gone to seminary abroad for several years. We’d completely lost touch with each other, notwithstanding the fact that she lived a mere ten houses away. Now here she was in shul. She looked exactly the same – petite build, pert features, bubbly smile.
Except for one change. There was a smooth, shining sheitel on top of her head. It gave her that unmistakable aura, an air of maturity and experience that we single folk, no matter what we’d accomplished, just couldn’t seem to muster. Was I just imagining it, or did she even stand taller now that she could face the world with someone at her side?
Ma’ariv began and I tried to focus on the words I was saying. After davening finished, as everyone slowly wended their way to the door, I approached my acquaintance.
Mazel tov,” I said warmly. “I see you’ve gotten married since I saw you last. How wonderful.”
She turned to me slowly and gave me a withering look. “You must really be out of it,” she said with a note of disdain in her voice. “I’m not only married; I have a little boy.”
I struggled to maintain my equilibrium. “Well, then I guess I owe you two mazel tovs. How old is your baby?”
“Five months,” she said shortly, “and I’d better be going – he might be hungry.” And with that she swept out of shul. I stood staring at her retreating back. Then, I slowly walked back to my parents’ house.
My mother was rushing to put the last touches on the table. As I helped her set out the fish, I told her about the encounter. “Life is one big race,” I said bitterly, “and all my friends are running, running, running, flying across the track, while I can’t even get past the starting line.”
“Life is not a race,” my mother said emphatically. “Each person has his own journey that starts at birth, not at marriage, and our job is to make our journey as meaningful as possible, whatever our circumstances.”
Sounded good, but somewhere in my heart was a little girl struggling to climb the stairs, calling out plaintively, “Wait, wait for me.”
But what of those who are still trying mightily to ascend the steps? Am I just traipsing along at the top of the climb, oblivious to those straining to reach the summit? What am I doing to make their climb easier?
How do I respond when I hear the pain-filled cry, “Wait, wait for me”?
This piece originally appeared in the Front Page and is reprinted with permission. Bassi Gruen is a liscened social worker and a professional writer. She’s published hundreds of articles in myriad Jewish publications, and does commercial writing as well. She lives with her husband and children in Beitar Illit.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.