It looks so lonely standing there, a solitary soldier whose unit has somehow moved on, leaving it behind, bereft…. The clock reads nearly 1a.m. and I am admittedly exhausted, more than ready for the welcoming comfort of bed. Still, the incongruous sight registers in the recesses of my foggy brain, reminding me of the cognizance games I played as a child: “What is wrong with this picture?”
So I do a double take, scrutinizing the scene once again. It still looks out of place and forlorn, my one lavender and white toothbrush, slumped alongside a nearly full tube of toothpaste, missing your green and white toothbrush that has always stood proudly beside her. I cannot help but see the stark symbolism in that tableau, and despite the lateness of the hour and my pillow’s subliminal calls for my attention, I remain transfixed by the sight. You left mere hours ago, throwing a few necessities into your suitcase and reviewing a hurried checklist before bidding us a quick good-bye and rushing off to catch your plane. We begin this week without your larger-than-life presence, already pining away for your return.
I finish cleaning up from Shabbos, periodically check my e-mails and the latest news updates. Then, I once again scrutinize the Ben Gurion International Airport arrivals and departures information website. Your flight has departed on time. You are now en route to your destination, 9,000 miles away from your family and hectic life here in the Holy Land. I realize that I am being unnecessarily melodramatic, but surely that too is a woman’s prerogative, particularly in the wee hours of a quiet motzaei Shabbos.
My mind wanders of its own volition, chastising me for my self-pitying thoughts, trying valiantly to provide some perspective. “What of your friends who have not yet found their bashert?” it taunts me. “Their toothbrushes have sadly been alone every day for many years already.” I cannot argue with the stark truth of that unfortunate reality. It is a crushing, sobering thought, one I take with me as I purposefully, albeit belatedly, head to bed. I awake after too few hours of somewhat restless slumber, see the kids off to school, toss in the day’s first load of laundry, and take a long walk in the fresh morning air. Through it all, my mind reverts again and again to you, to us, to our beautiful family and life together. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, absence makes the heart grow fonder. But you have been gone less than 12 hours; in fact you still have many hours and miles ahead of you before you even reach your destination. Perhaps absence provides an enhanced vantage point, along with a significant dose of moral clarity.
Despite all the petty annoyances of day-to-day life, the challenging parent, the vexing child, the missed bus, the stray sock, the unkind word, and the constant race against the clock, I know and deeply appreciate how fortunate I am. Although I cannot walk any faster than a snail’s pace, as our kids will be more than happy to confirm, I would race with every fiber of my being to retrieve my own proverbial pekele before anyone else has an opportunity to grab it.
True, my wardrobe is laughably limited, my live-in maid is the person looking back at me in the mirror each morning, and our otherwise wonderful kids have a marked aversion to making their beds. Likewise, you, my better half, are away from home until nearly midnight each night throughout Elul zman, returning depleted in body and spirit, barely managing to climb the steps to our apartment. Other than on Shabbos and Yom Tov, we never eat a meal together any more; by the time we are reunited, you no longer have an appetite for food or conversation. The rest of us have long-since eaten, and can barely string an intelligible sentence together at that late hour.
Is everything in my life and daily existence a slice of paradise? Hardly. However, I am well aware that nirvana is a lofty but sadly unattainable concept. It is incompatible with the trials and tribulations of this roller-coaster ride we Jews term Olam Hazeh.
I see, hear and read enough harrowing tales of dysfunctional families, abusive spouses and intolerable situations to know that, despite its imperfections, I would not trade my life with any other, no matter how wealthy and glamorous it may appear.
My own daily reality may be somewhat low on wealth and glamour, but it is priceless in myriad ways that cannot be measured in dollars and cents – or the latest fashions or European hair sheitels. Our relationship, perhaps somewhat less fireworks and marching bands these days, and more shared interests and worldview, has baruch Hashem weathered the inevitable storms that accompany multiple moves and a houseful of boisterous children.
Our personalities have always been radically different, but we complement each other in the best way possible. And we tend to agree on the most important things: chinuch, Eretz Yisrael and chocolate, to name but a few. Our priorities are largely in sync, and we both believe in the incomparable power of a healthy dose of humor. Our children and grandchildren are our undisputed pride and joy, the source of infinite riches, made even more precious by the challenges some of them tested us with along the way. They and our good health, baruch Hashem, are the most valuable of our many assets, and our tefillah is that Hakadosh Baruch Hu should continue to shower us with his abundant blessings. As another New Year dawns, I cannot help but wax poetic and introspective, savoring each of our many berachos and praying for even more.
May our family continue to be happy and healthy. May all the siblings and in-laws get along and advocate for one another. May our single children find appropriate shidduchim who are baalei midos tovos, stable and blessed with simchas hachayim. May our married children be zoche to shalom bayis, and children who are healthy in every way. May we all celebrate simchas and derive much nachas from one another.
My shana tova wishes are simultaneously simple and basic, yet incredibly profound. I will continue to fervently beseech my benevolent Father in Heaven to fulfill my requests throughout this New Year and all of the coming ones, ad meah v’esrim.
And in the short term, I will daven for you, my dear husband, that your travels are easy and pleasant, and all your endeavors in avodas hakodesh meet with success. Also, that you return safe and sound, and soon. In case you haven’t figured it out already, my toothbrush really misses yours.