A century is a large amount of time and any significant slice thereof is itself significant. A child of divorce whose parent’s marriage ended after 13 years can be forgiven at his own sense of astonishment that his marriage has, with God’s infinite blessing, reached the quarter century mark.
Those who know us would congratulate me, but they would give all the credit to Debbie. There are those women, stable and sturdy, capable of sharing their lives with wounded men and restoring them. There exist in this broken and hollow world creatures of light who can give chase to the darkness in a man’s shattered heart. There are human seraphs the wings of whose healing glow can gently touch a man’s pain and make it vanish.
Debbie and I come from opposite backgrounds. My parents love me infinitely and have both been remarkable sources of inspiration. But the conflict I witnessed as a child was ultimately internalized. A child of divorce is born on the front lines. Witnessing his parent’s hurt, he is essentially denied a childhood, forced as he is to become something of a caregiver to his mother and father. Seeing that the world is harsh rather than tender, he puts his guard up and is unaware of a time when he allowed himself to be completely vulnerable.
Mine, like many children of divorce, is a life built on a bedrock of battles and it shows in some of the confrontations I have been prepared to endure for convictions I strongly believed in. But when you’re a young woman who stems from a marriage that is all sweetness and harmony, it can be an awakening to follow your newly-wed husband across the world from Australia to Oxford, England, right after your twentieth birthday. I was ready for the mêlée. Debbie was wondering what she had got herself into.
That she won over, and continues to win over, all whom she meets, due to her kind and giving heart, was perhaps predictable. Any one of the thousands upon thousands of people whom Debbie has hosted for Shabbos dinners over the last twenty-five years can bear testimony to the warmth of her hospitality and glow of her smile. But that she would flourish, amid an essentially shy nature, as a role model to countless women of how to be retain their essential femininity in an aggressively masculine age, was something that softened her entire environment. That she has done so while being the mother of nine children makes the achievement all the more remarkable.
Men ultimately fall in love with those women who bring out their best qualities. Among the innumerable stories I can recall was the time an important politician was coming to our home for Shabbos, and, since she was arriving with a large retinue, I asked Debbie to cancel our regular guests, among which was an elderly woman with no place else to go. Debbie told me she would, and that I was fortunate since, with even her own place empty, since she would be eating at the elderly woman’s apartment with her, I could have fit even more important people that Shabbos. “I remember when every soul was equal to you, Shmuley. That’s the man I married, and that’s the man you’re going to be.”
After our engagement we had a stormy period and I thought of calling it off. I interpreted Debbie’s gentility as detachment. I needed more than I felt she could give me. As I said goodbye to her and dropped her off, perhaps for the last time, I saw that her eyes were bloodshot. She said, “I know that you’re going to do great things in your life. I look forward to reading about it. Some people just have it. You’re one of those people. Goodbye.” In my stubbornness I drove off but stopped two blocks later. In my agony, two things went through my mind. First, causing pain to one so noble and gentle was a sin against God and goodness. Second, her words pierced the cynical layer of doubt that lacquered my soul and made me believe that God had given me, like everyone else, a unique gift. I turned the car around, begged her forgiveness, and we married a short time later.