I’m learning to walk again. Every step is painful. I go with a walker. There is a security belt wrapped around my waist which the physical therapist watches carefully so that in case I stumble she will be able to catch me. As I make my way, the nurses and other health care personnel smile and congratulate me: “You’re doing wonderful! You’re doing great!”
I wonder what on earth they are talking about, yet they continue to cheer me on. There is something familiar about the words “You’re doing great – step by step.” Aren’t these the very same words I used with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren when they started to walk? I would smile for them, clap for them, and say “hurrah.” And when they stumbled and fell I would say, “Come on, you can do it – come to Bubbe.”
Now it’s Bubbe who’s being cheered at each tentative step. The roles have reversed, from Bubbe to baby, from baby to Bubbe. How strange life is. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I remember my beloved great-aunt of blessed memory whom we all adoringly called Tante Miriam. She would say, “Esther, gedenek azoyvee dee musik shpilt, azoy darfem tancen – the way the music plays, so we have to dance.” Her words keep replaying in my mind.
So, I say to myself, I have to learn a new song, a new tune, a new dance. I make my way down the long corridor – which in reality is short but to me so very long. I ponder Tante’s sage advice given to me decades ago when I had to grapple with my new life in the U.S. following the war. Coming to this country following life in the concentration and DP camps I had to face new challenges, learn a new language and find friends even though I was regarded as a “greener.” This was not an easy task, but I had a gem of wisdom to fortify me – my Tante’s teaching. The way the music played, so I would have to dance – and having no choice, dance I did.
I hear one of the nurses say, “Rebbetzin [though they are not Jewish, they all learned to pronounce “rebbetzin” correctly], you look like a prima ballerina.” I wonder, are they mocking me; are they laughing? How at this time can I possibly look like a prima ballerina? Of course I doubt they are laughing at me – they are too respectful, treating me with such reverence and kindness.
Those of you who know me can testify that I’m always careful to appear in public properly dressed – to have my sheitel on and for my clothing to be in order. Now I’m wearing a hospital gown, robe, socks, and tichel – turban. So, again, why are they calling me a prima ballerina? Could this be a message from Hashem to me? Once again, my Tante’s wise words come to mind. “The way the music plays, so we have to dance.”
And then it hit me. Ballerinas have to learn not only to dance but how to skip and hop, leap and stretch; how to be in control and how to let go. Should they fall, they have to quickly stand up and continue to dance.
I am on a new journey. I too have to learn how to skip and hop, leap and stretch; how to be in control and how to let go. Ballerinas have to continuously practice or they regress. They have to be disciplined.
Sometimes we are in a valley and it is so difficult to reach the heights of the mountains. But the ballerina has to learn to make that leap and when she’s on top of the mountain she has to leap to the bottom and quickly stand up – the music is playing and she has to continue to dance.
Might this be the message Hashem is sending me? Might He be telling me, “Esther Jungreis, learn to leap and hop. Yes, now you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop. Hold on, don’t lose control. Swallow your tears and keep going – practice and practice again and keep fit. Remember who you are – you are a prima ballerina.”
Suddenly, I have clarity. The cajoling and encouraging sounds make sense. Now it is the young ones – the nurses – reaching out to Bubbe in a loving voice saying, “You’re doing great. How wonderful – you can do it.” I feel strengthened. Yes, I will make the leap.
As I write this, another memory comes to mind. My father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avrohom HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would often tell us, “When difficult days come upon you, always remember that if G-d gave you those challenges it is so that you should help others find their way when they are confronted with their own struggles and life’s tests.”