The highway was packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there I sat with hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel, begging the cars to move. My heart swelled at the thought of seeing my son, who was just coming back from his year of learning in Eretz Yisrael. How I had missed him! Though I was used to him being away (if you can ever really get used to a child being away), a special space in my heart was empty – as I waited for him.
Now he’s going to think that I didn’t leave early enough because I didn’t care about seeing him. I worried, fidgeting restlessly. Yes, I can tell him about the traffic, but I didn’t want to greet him with excuses; I wanted to be in the terminal waiting for him. Oh, well, I tried to console myself by believing that Hashem must have a reason for all of this. It will be okay, I thought. But hey, all of you cars, can you please get outta my way?
Highway signs informed me that there had been an accident and several lanes were blocked. Oh, so that’s what’s going on, I nodded to myself. Well, I hope everyone’s okay, and I hope they get the road cleared soon.
Eventually, with the trip’s duration doubled in length and my heart beating like a sledgehammer, I arrived at the airport. Amazingly, my son was one of the last to deplane, so I actually beat him to the terminal.
Several days later, I got a call.
“Did you hear about the Harrises?” Leah asked me. “No,” I said. “What’s going on?”
“Avi and Debby were on their way to the airport two days ago to pick up Aviva, who was returning home from seminary in Israel, and they got into an accident. Apparently the weather was stormy, and probably due to the poor visibility, they got rear-ended. They’re both in Northview Hospital, in ICU.”
I gasped. Debby was my friend; we lived in the same community for 20 years. We’ve shared smachos. We go to the same gym. And now, ICU! I struggled to wrap my mind around the ramifications. Would they live? I began to shake, and tears flowed from my eyes. I hung up the phone and reached for my Tehillim. Please, Hashem, please let them be okay. And then it hit me: That day I was on the highway with the poor visibility and the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Did their accident take place then?
Overcome, I poured out my heart to Hashem, for I realized with a sudden, blinding epiphany that that could have been me. I, too, was on the same route running the identical errand, yet I arrived home safely with my son while my friends were both lying helplessly in a hospital ICU room fighting for their lives.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu, I wish I could tell You that I will never complain again. Look at the nissim You performed for me. Thank you for sparing my family and me. I hope to become a better person and use this experience as a springboard that will catapult me to higher levels of hakaras hatov and closeness to You. But I know myself. I know I will complain again – about trivialities, no less. But maybe not as much.
Reaching for the phone to find out what the Harrises needed, I heard my father-in-law’s words playing in my mind, his sonorous voice telling and retelling his famous army story.
“I stared death in the face too many times to count. I never understood why I made it back safely while so many of my friends didn’t. Bombs and bullets exploded all around me, and I lay in the trenches wondering if I would live yet another moment. My world was filled with smoke and the stench of death. And finally, at last, the Vietnam War ended and I was free. Free to go back to my wife, my children, and my home. When my feet touched American soil, I bent down and kissed the ground. And I prayed. ‘God,’ I called out, with hot tears rolling down my cheeks, ‘if I ever dare complain about anything again, give me a swift kick in the seat of my pants. Thank you, God. Thank you for watching over me and bringing me home.’
“A few days later, the general called me into his office to receive my paycheck. One glance at the amount told me there was an error, and it was not in my favor. All of the pain from the last two years simmered inside of me, threatening to burst forth from my heart like a jet of fire. I gave them my life, and this is how they treat me? My face reddened, and I could feel steam gushing from my ears. Opening my mouth to let the general have it, I stopped and remembered. How quickly I have fallen, I realized, picturing myself crouched over the ground in earnest prayer. And over a few dollars…”
A few days passed. Our community breathed a collective sigh of relief as the news circulated that the Harrises were being discharged from the hospital. They faced a lengthy recuperation, but they would be okay. Keeping them in my tefillos, I continued to prepare for Pesach with its myriad details.
On the last school day before Pesach break, a brilliant sun smiled down on me as I ran out of the house, armed with a to-do list a mile long. Just as I closed the car door, my daughter called me from school. “Can you bring my lunch?” she wanted to know.
“Will do,” I replied, making an effort to sound calm and cheerful. Once inside, I remembered to do one more task before leaving. Then off I went, feeling like a virtuous mother as I pulled up to the school office. I turned off the car and reached for her lunch. But where was it? I checked the seat, the floor, and the back of the car. You’re kidding! I didn’t really leave it sitting on the kitchen table, did I? With a long, suffering sigh, I turned the car back on and retraced my steps, retrieving her lunch and heading back to her school.
Here’s your chance! It was that voice, the voice of my epiphany and my father-in-law’s timeless story combined. Don’t blow it, Yehudis!
Okay, Hashem, here goes. May this tiny inconvenience be a kapparah – and thank You for letting it be so small. I am healthy, everything’s fine, and I have no reason in the world to complain. And then I felt it: a small bubble of gratitude welling up inside of me, growing larger and larger as if wafting heavenward. Tears filled my eyes as I said with a full heart, “Thank you, Hashem, for all the gifts You give me constantly. Thank you for my life and my family on this glorious day.”
And I meant it.
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