The snow came down all night and all day and the children piled into their snowpants and coats and gloves to pack a pail full and up-end it on the heavily covered lawn. It was the first snow day of the season, a white blanket over our weathered neighborhood.
Inside, it was fresh and clean and full of color. I made cottage cheese pancakes for breakfast and filled the coffee press. We stayed in pajamas or sweats the whole day.
When night fell, it was our Sabbath together. I lit the candles – five for our broken family, one votive for my healing sister, and my daughter lit her own. We covered our eyes and swayed to the sound of our own prayerful voices, then danced in circles until we fell into each another.
We ate around the table – short ribs and leeks, the next day a chicken stew with hearty whole grains – ate until we were full.
In the afternoon of the next day, my parents came over in the blustery cold, bearing gifts. The day before the official start to Chanukah, they wanted to give my children their presents in the silence of just us – no family chaos that would follow the next night as extended relatives gathered at my aunt’s house for latkes.
Their eyes opened wide and awe-filled as my three children unwrapped their basket full of art supplies – canvases to paint on, brushes and tubes of acrylics, markers and paper, and crayons and dot paints for the baby.
“When I was a little boy, all I wanted was a box of 64 crayons,” my father said in his gentle voice. “My mother said she couldn’t afford it. So I never got it.”
“I’ll give you mine,” Asher said.
My mother laid a hand on my father’s shoulder. “I feel so bad that you never got your box of crayons,” she said.
In these incredible times, in these hard-to-believe times, my children are still given full buckets of art supplies. The baby has his very own box of more than 100 crayons.
Everywhere around me, friends are losing jobs. “It’s so scary,” one woman said.
It is. It’s easy to go to fear. Times are scary but we can – we must – persevere. We must innovate. We must turn the box upside down and shake out all its contents and then figure out something creative to do with the box.
On my desk, folded bills yet to be paid. I must believe in the power of time and hard work and know that if I do all I can, I will survive.
Years ago, when I was more religious, I read a thin hard-back book called Thou Shalt Not Want. I looked for it on the bookshelf today but couldn’t find it – perhaps it left with my ex-husband. Perhaps that alone is symbolic.
What I remember most was its repetitive message that each person has a destiny and must put in the full effort within her power. Doing less or doing more won’t lead to her best life, it said.
As I scoured the living room bookshelves, I came across books that I once relied upon – The No-Cry Sleep Solution and Dr. Sears’ Baby Book among them. I remember once sitting in my closet at 2 in the morning, poring through those pages in search of answers as to why my infant was crying, crying, crying.
I haven’t looked at those books in years. Because I know all the answers are somewhere inside me, if only I can silence the fear enough to listen. Or maybe there are no answers, no easy, figure-it-out black print telling me what to do. Maybe the answer is that there are no answers, just the journey.
There is an ancient Jewish legend that inside the womb, an angel teaches the growing baby all the secrets of the universe. Moments before birth, the angel taps the baby on the top of his lip and erases all that he learned.
The top lip indentation is left as a reminder that he once knew all the answers and will spend the years to come re-acquiring them.
I am comforted by notions of angels, even if I don’t believe in them. The real angels are beside me, in the flesh, in my life. People come into our lives when they must, for an exact reason that most of us will never know.
But while they are here, it is up to us to maximize that potential, to realize the dreams we are afraid to let slip away. I am learning to cherish the gifts I’m given every day – in people, in opportunities, in situations.
What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Who would you love if you didn’t have to worry about being hurt?