Posts in Susan’s Musings

Stop Being an Ostrich

November 5th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

Are you stressed? That’s a silly question. The results of this election matter a great deal to our lives and to the future of this country and the world. While I have faith that God is leading us on an ultimately glorious path, in the short-term that path can be uncomfortable, scary, and dangerous for us as individuals and families.

However, aside from praying, the conclusion of this episode is out of the hands of most of us. Whatever happens, the following remains true: elections reflect the culture. If we allow the culture to influence us, our families, and friends, we have no reason to expect elections to produce better results.

A pre-election article in the Wall Street Journal asked a number of people how they were going to handle the tension of Election Day. It quoted one pastor from Arkansas who expected to share the evening with his 12 and 14-year-old daughters. As a side comment, he mentioned that they, “[had] been radicalized by TikTok.” While he didn’t reveal his own voting preferences, “radicalized” is not generally a positive word. I assume that he and his daughters do not agree on politics.

His family is not an anomaly. I know many families where the parents hold strongly traditional and conservative views and who are aghast at their children’s contradictory ideas. (There are families that slant the other way as well, but I want to stick with this more common direction.) I also know families, and my husband and I rejoice that ours falls into this category, where the children, while having their own individual personalities and preferences, express the same morality and values as their parents.

Is this blind luck? I don’t think so. Parents can certainly do everything right and tragically watch their children go down a misguided road. However, while we cannot guarantee that our children follow in our steps, we can certainly do things to make that more probable. Perhaps the pastor in the above story is not shrugging his shoulders resignedly as my mind pictures, but if I was him, my reaction to the realization that my children were being radicalized would lead me to take radical steps. His daughters are 12 and 14, for goodness sake. Pull them out of school, do whatever you have to, and start spending multiple hours together, no electronics allowed!

If you picture my internal voice rising as I wrote those last sentences you would be correct. I have too many friends who sent their children to school, creating their schedules around their kids’ education, sports, friends, and hobbies and then sacrificed to pay enormous sums to send their children to college, only to be gobsmacked at the adults their children became. I want to be clear. Many of these young adults are lovely, caring, and hard-working. But they do not share the deepest values of their parents. Their teachers and friends shaped their thinking; their homes did not. These parents surrendered too much family autonomy.

I see many mothers deciding to stay home with their babies and I agree that, if possible, that is desirable. Too many of those moms, and fathers also,  assume that once their children are in school, their parenting role is secondary. That is false. It is absolutely imperative to understand that if your children are in government schools (or, as my husband calls them, GICs, government indoctrination camps), that is what will shape their values.  This is true even if they attend many Jewish or Christian schools as well. I have spoken to graduates of Christian colleges who tell me that their parents would be shocked to hear how some of their professors speak. I know the same is true in Jewish schools.

Here are my not-so-modestly-offered suggestions:

  1. Get your head out of the sand. You need to know what your children are learning, what they are reading, who they are hanging out with, what they are thinking, and what the latest is on social media. If you can’t find the time to do that between carpool and supervising homework and attending their soccer games and making sure they go to the dentist and everything else, then you need to change your schedule and theirs. They need concentrated and planned time with you more than they need Tae-Kwon-Do.
  2. You need to be able to think through and articulate your views and what matters to you and to choose reading and viewing material for the family. Much of what we want to teach our children like being kind and giving charity, never gets discussed on a more sophisticated level as they grow up. We neglect to explain how kindness can actually be cruel and that the government cannot be charitable. We leave our children thinking that what was appropriate when they were five is the whole picture.
  3. If you are considering helping your child go to college in any way whatsoever, think very seriously about that decision. If you go ahead, do not restrict your role to doling out dollars. Consider yourself as one of your child’s professors with full authority to assign reading material and hold seminars where you discuss what was read. A history major today may never have heard of the Federalist Papers, an economics major may not know of Adam Smith. You need to educate yourself and educate your child. Values, beliefs, and our understanding of the world do not sit on a chromosome; they will not be automatically inherited.
  4. Sharing your deepest beliefs with your child should be as much fun as sharing skiing or camping. All of the above suggestions are predicated on putting in the time, effort, and wisdom to create a relationship with your child. Love and connection aren’t enough, but if they are not present the rest is futile.

If God forbid, the air and water outside your home were polluted, you would do whatever is necessary to protect your children so that they could grow up healthy. The ideas surrounding today’s culture are badly polluted. Protect your children and when they reflect their deepest held values in the voting booth, you won’t be surprised.

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Pre-election Roundup

October 29th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

By the time I post my next Musing, Election Day will be behind us. Whether or not the results are conclusive is another question. Whatever the tally shows, about half the country will believe that this was not a fair and just election. That is a serious problem.

But the election and the anti-Trump bias of the media has obscured or downplayed some great news. Even before dealing with her first Supreme Court case, Amy Coney Barrett is a gift to the nation. Her steadfastness in her religious beliefs, her example as a gracious, brilliant woman who values family and has enough love to bring more children into her home, and the contrast of her professionalism with the petty, mud-wrestling of Democrat Senators are true bright spots in this difficult time.

Undoubtedly, the unprecedented relationships that the president’s pragmatic approach has brought about in the Middle East would be hailed as miraculous had anyone other than President Trump been leading this country. The same would have been true for the surge in economic hope for Americans before COVID hit. To quote an old adage, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I’d like to add a more personal positive note. Over the past few months, using an app, I have met a large group of women facing a specific challenge. The practical advice is helpful but even more so is the mutual support, friendship and warmth. Not one whiff of politics has marred this group. In today’s age, that is truly a blessing.

If I may add one plea:  Our friend, the great American historian David Barton, once shared with us the shocking statistics of how many people do not exercise the privilege of voting. He was speaking of those with strong enough views that they donate to or are members of organizations that promote values in which we believe. Yet, they don’t vote! Some are cynical about politics, many live in states where they feel their vote doesn’t matter, others are trying to stay off jury rolls. Whatever the reason, if you know such a person, please pick him or her up and take them with you to the polling place. As a saying in ancient Jewish wisdom states: Silence is acquiescence.

Stay strong and of good cheer!

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Do You Believe the Election is Really Trump vs. Biden?

October 22nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

My morning interaction with my newspaper consists of many groans, occasional smiles and avoidance tactics. Since I am the only active player in this relationship, all three of these responses come from me.

Working backward, avoidance takes the form of turning to the crossword puzzle and not even looking at the rest of the paper. When I do venture further, the smiles come from a particularly well-written piece, from reading a point of view or information that enhances my understanding of the world, or from being reminded that wonderful people populate this country and world. Such a reminder came this week in a story of two neighbors whose yard signs support opposing presidential candidates, but who also have a second sign that says, “We (heart) them,” and shows an arrow pointing to their friend’s home.

Honestly, these days the groans are my most plentiful response. A Wall Street Journal editorial that included these words, “Joe Biden has an obligation to answer questions about his son’s influence-peddling and his own financial dealings—notably regarding China,” elicited a huge groan.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist. For the record, I believe that U.S. astronauts landed on the moon and I don’t think that Elvis Presley’s death was faked. However, I am increasingly cynical when it comes to the government and know that powerful interests continually do mendacious things of which we average citizens are completely unaware.

Should Joe Biden win the election (honestly or dishonestly) I do not give his chances of a four-year term of office more than 50%. I think I am being overly generous by suggesting odds that high. Whether he will “choose” to resign or whether he will be forced to resign by his own party, is irrelevant. The point is that it will be relatively easy to attack his mental capacity and/or bring forth serious allegations of abuse of power. He will be in office only on the sufferance of the Left. Their goal is to place in the Oval Office a redistributive Leftist willing to trash America’s founding values. She is waiting on the sidelines.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I groan at that editorial I mentioned above because I think it misses the point. Socialism thrives on a system whose rigorous rules and regulations cast such a wide net that every citizen, without exception, can easily be criminalized, even by falling foul of retroactive legislation. Every person is a potential criminal or easily threatened with or subject to blackmail. Anyone, no matter who, is in danger of being targeted. In addition, society’s rules change so rapidly that what was acceptable yesterday is unacceptable today—as we frequently see happening now. Things that the media is ignoring about Joe Biden today, can be front-page news tomorrow. I fear that Joe Biden’s very weaknesses that are being ignored today are what make him desirable to those scrambling for power.

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The Not Restful Rest Stop

October 15th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

My husband and I recently found ourselves at one of those rest stations that dot highways on the East coast. What I saw disturbed me. Let me preface my statements by saying that I am not about to, nor do I want to, turn this into a debate on the advantages or disadvantages of face masks.

What I do want to note is the danger of turning Americans into terrified mindless robots. I sat in the parking lot for a good fifteen minutes. During that time a fair number of people left their cars and entered the building in which the food and bathrooms are located. Masks were required to enter that building. I completely understand that people put on masks as they came closer to the doorways and kept their masks on as they exited. So far, so good.

What troubled me was seeing people putting on the masks as they were leaving their cars and keeping them on until they were back inside their vehicles. Frequently, once they were ten feet or so away from the building, they were not within 60 feet of another person.

Why were they masked when they were not in the vicinity of another human being? Why do I frequently even see people driving alone in their cars with masks firmly in place? Some, perhaps, have become accustomed to wearing masks for hours on end and they barely feel them anymore. I have trouble believing that is true for most people.

Heeding the warnings that masks potentially protect others from you suggests that there are others around you to protect. Wearing the mask in the footsteps of those who placed a string of garlic heads around their necks to ward off vampires is not a healthy sign for the Republic. There is nothing magical or mystical about a mask. If there is science behind the proscription, then it is not meant to mimic avoiding walking under a ladder or refusing to sit in the thirteenth row.

If you are wearing a mask when it has no possible advantage only because of fear of social censure, that is an even worse sign for our civilization. Following the crowd because you fear the crowd has led to many of society’s sins. Americans used to delight in movies and plays such as Twelve Angry Men or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Rugged individualism did not mean being anti-social but rather being a person who was committed to thinking for himself and sticking to one’s principles. Crowd-think was a scary scenario, not the desired outcome.

This was not a restful rest stop.

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A Disastrous Debate

October 1st, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 47 comments

I completely understand the desire to relegate memories of the first 2020 presidential debate to oblivion, but for those of you who will bear with me, I need the cathartic experience of writing about it. I also think it is important to do so to distance myself from those who think that President Trump showed himself to be forceful and in command. He did not. Both Chris Wallace and Vice-president Biden presented themselves poorly as well but, in my opinion, the president was the worst of an embarrassing bunch.

From the outset, let me say that I will be voting for the current president. I am voting for and supporting, as I have for the past five years, policies rather than choosing a person who will be my family’s guide to character and morals. I look at what President Trump has done rather than at what or how he speaks. I support almost all of his record. I further believe that no other Republican who was running in 2016 could have stood up against the Clinton and media machines. We needed, and we voted in the primaries, for a bulldozer, a maverick, a Hulk Hogan. President Trump’s actions have fulfilled my expectations and I am grateful for what he has done during his term of office.

Having said that, he blew an opportunity at the debate. I have heard the president in State of the Union speeches and at other times speak articulately, clearly and strongly. On each of those occasions, he countered the image of the media and the Left. During this debate, he matched the parody that they constantly and unfairly portray him to be. His worst self was on show.
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Ruth and Marty: Is Their Love Story Your Love Story?

September 24th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

I am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy. I do want to tell you what I think about a number of articles such as the one that appeared in Vogue entitled May Every Woman Find Her Marty Ginsburg. By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg’s marriage reads as a solid love story, a partnership with an intelligent, accomplished man who delighted in her professional success as she delighted in his.

My question is whether encouraging every woman to aim for such a collaboration is wise. Students, especially girls, in Jewish religious schools are taught the story of Akiba and Rachel. Here is a (very) shortened summary. Akiba was an uneducated shepherd working for a wealthy man who had a beautiful daughter, Rachel. At the age of forty, Akiba’s soul sparked a desire to find God through studying the Torah, leading him initially to sit next to small children as they learned the aleph-bet. Rachel recognized his potential and joined her destiny to his, marrying him despite her father’s repudiation of the couple, leaving them in desperate poverty. Over many, many years, Rachel lived not only with the barest necessities but even without her husband as she sent him off to learn with the greatest teachers, far away from her.

Decades later, Akiba, now the highly respected Rabbi Akiba and teacher of thousands of students, returned home. As they entered the town, a peasant woman rushed to greet him only to be rudely blocked by those flocking to greet the esteemed rabbi. Rabbi Akiba turned to the crowd and said, “Let her through. All my accomplishments and all your learning are only because of her.”

Romantic visions fill the minds of Jewish high school girls hearing this story and they too picture marriages of sacrifice and suffering where they help to transform their young husbands into this generation’s giant in Torah scholarship. Wise parents and teachers ask them a simple question: “What makes you think that you can be Rachel and that your husband can be Akiba?” The story of Rabbi Akiba and Rachel is famous not because they are representative run of the mill prototypes but precisely because they are exceptional. Inspiring? Yes.  Easy to emulate? No.

Visionaries in the 1970s painted a rosy picture of a society filled with thriving and optimistic men and women, happily relating as equals in the workplace and at home with fulfilling careers, enduring marriages and well-adjusted children. That has not come to pass.

Something went wrong.

Instead of a world filled with light, sunshine and joy as we frolic in a feminist utopia, we keep hearing about how unhappy and dissatisfied both women and men are. Children—when there are children—are increasingly emotionally fragile. Marriages are fewer and less stable. Most of us aren’t living the lives of our dreams. We may not even know what those dreams are anymore.

Let’s be completely honest. How many women and men can say that they are Ruth and Marty Ginsburg?

If I may, I’d like to share one more story. In the book, House Calls to Eternity, Rabbi Yaakov and Hadassah Wehl write about the rabbi’s physician mother, a woman clearly blessed by God with unusual talent, intuition and ability. Dr. Wehl, who qualified as a physician while a young woman in Germany in the 1920s, overcame numerous hurdles to become a pediatrician and to qualify as such a second time after arriving in  America as a refugee. She and her husband decided that the couple should focus on her doing so, rather than on his establishing a new profession.

Dr. Wehl said, “I insisted that my young son, who was one and a half years old, should not be sent to a baby-sitter. He was to be cared for by my husband.”

Aha! A working mom and a stay-at-home father back in 1939! Dr. Wehl’s husband completely supported her work as the following quotes from the book attest:

[In the early years] “Sometimes my husband and I would stay up to twelve or one o’clock at night recording the blood counts.”

[Years later, after their son was grown] “Omi (grandma) went to check on a baby in the hospital at twelve-thirty at night. The mother, dumbstruck at seeing Dr. Wehl at that hour, couldn’t understand why she was there and finally remarked,

“Dr. Wehl, all alone at this hour of the night, isn’t it dangerous?”

Omi answered, “I am not alone, my husband is sitting outside in the car waiting for me.”

Opi (grandpa) was ninety-two-years old at the time.”

Let’s be honest. Most of us, men and women alike, do not have callings like that, where we happily devote ourselves to our professions day and night, never thinking of retirement, working not for money but because our souls allow us no alternative.  Dr. Wehl would have gone out in the snow in the middle of the night even had she won the lottery and never needed to work for financial reasons again. How many of us can honestly say that about our jobs, professions and careers? How many of us have been blessed with a unique gift that the world needs such as Dr. Wehl’s ?

From their son’s book, it seems that the Wehls were blessed with only one child.  The Ginsburgs leave behind two children. I know nothing more about them. I hope that they are happy, well-adjusted and have loving memories of their parents. But, in the adulation of career, how many women today are rejecting motherhood or limiting it, unaware that decades from now the only lasting impact they might have made would be through the next generation? Most of these women are not going to sit on the Supreme Court. They may well savor the zest of a professional challenge when they are young, but will that excitement and the accompanying experiences and ‘stuff’ for which a good salary provides have been a worthwhile trade-off for marriage and children? For many women, the answer is a resounding No!

Few men have the fire, passion, desire, talent and persistence to act boldly on the world’s stage. As I have written before, most of those who do, fulfill their potential only due to their wives’ support. While it is politically incorrect, I suspect that even fewer women have such dreams, though certainly some, like Justice Ginsburg, do. Just as thousands of boys each year handicap their lives by ignoring education as they fantasize at being a sports superstar, let’s acknowledge that we are selling a myth if we present Marty and Ruth Ginsburg’s distinctive relationship and accomplishments as an easily attainable goal that is or should be universally desired.

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Biden, Bullies and Bahrain

September 17th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

These days, it’s pretty difficult to tell what is satire vs. what is news. So, when I read advice in a major publication that anyone interested in law and order should vote for Joe Biden because otherwise the streets would be torn apart by riots, my first response was to chuckle. Then, when I saw the author, I realized that he was serious. In other words, “You’d better vote like I want you to or I will rampage through the streets.”

Obviously, this is the advice we give kids all the time when faced with a bully. “Give in.” Everyone in the class should hand over his allowance to the bully because, if not, he will make your life miserable. Is a co-worker sabotaging your work? Hey—just let him do better than you or he might threaten you even more. (Yes, that is my tongue bulging out my cheek.)

This is the policy that until now most American presidents took with the Palestinians as well. You raise your children to blow themselves up as long as they take others with them? We’ll grovel so that maybe you’ll blow up fewer of us. It worked exactly as it works with the schoolyard bully, leading to a stronger and more implacable enemy.

This week, President Trump’s unconventional leadership resulted in an unprecedented breakthrough with peace agreements between Israel and Bahrain and Israel and the United Arab Emirates. More treaties are expected. Had something like this happened under any other president there would be universal acclaim. Instead, petty minds carp about not enough people wearing masks during the ceremony marking the occasion.

For decades, Palestinians have been used by the countries around them. Rather than being given a helping hand by “cousins” who amassed untold wealth, they were condemned to poverty and told that they could never succeed because of Jews, Zionists, the American Satan and Israel. Complicit in their victimhood, they elected corrupt government after corrupt government, where leaders lived like kings while too many of the ruled huddled in hovels seething in hatred.

Now, some of these “cousins” are recognizing that the world has moved on and that the tactics of the past no longer work. That is a huge step forward, even if it is unfair to those in whom they bred hopelessness. However, it does finally provide an opportunity for the Palestinians to assert their own willingness to aim for a better future rather than drowning in the failed past to which their corrupt leaders condemned them.

Perhaps most incredible, as the Arab world takes steps forward, rising leaders in the Democrat Party right here in the United States are supporting similar policies to those that have subjugated the Palestinians. These policies breed resentment, jealousy and violence.  Like a spiritual dark cloud, the worst of human nature moves from one area of the world to another. Vote for Biden or I’ll tear your neighborhood apart? One can only pray and work hard to ensure that there are enough Americans willing to stand up to bullies.

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Ready to be Uplifted?

September 10th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

Are you ready for a story that will make you happy?  From our youngest days, my sister and I knew Cousin Mae as one of my mother’s closest relatives. Mae and my mother had grown up together and still talked regularly, sharing good times and bad. In 2000, when we were sitting shiva* for my mother, Mae, of course, was right there. However, she didn’t expect the shocking revelation that my aunt shared. It seems that we actually aren’t related to Mae! Since her last name was the same as my mother’s maiden name, they grew up thinking they were cousins, but in actuality, the relationship was of the heart, not of blood.

Nonetheless, I am still in touch with Mae, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year. In the summers, she spends time in an apartment near the beach in Long Island, NY, enjoying walks on the sand and the cool Atlantic Ocean breezes.  A few days ago, two men knocked on her door. They were the local lifeguards, Jake (22) and James (24) and they came to tell her that the water was warm and the day beautiful. Would she like to go in the ocean? Absolutely! After her dunk, while one of them helped her out of the surf, the other ran to get her towel so she would be warm. What wonderful and generous actions by two wonderful and generous young men!

In other good news, I came across a web-magazine that has me feeling optimistic. Brittany Hugoboom shared her story on #Walkaway, describing the hostile reaction she got from her peers in the modeling business when she interviewed Candace Owens and Tweeted against child porn. She mentioned that she had started an e-magazine, Evie, so I looked it up. I am not the intended reader; that would be women aged 18-34, “…who are tired of having to go to trashy or politically biased publications just to get quality reads on health, beauty, relationships and more.” I was delighted to see articles honoring ideas about women and men that used to be overwhelmingly shared, but that are only found now in religiously oriented publications. I don’t necessarily share all the ideas expressed, but for many women in their late teens, twenties and thirties, these time-tested views are radical.  I love that above the area where you can leave comments, it says, “Keep it classy. Keep it kind.” The fact that young women are producing content like this is uplifting indeed.

Hope you are as inspired as I am by these two stories.

*For seven days after the burial of a close relative, Jewish mourners step back from their usual lives, remaining at home while friends and relatives visit, providing support and consolation.

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They Confuse Chaos with Compassion

September 3rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

You have most likely heard the adage, “If you’re not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” The quote, in various versions, is attributed to many people ranging from a Frenchman in the 1700s to Edmund Burke, King Oscar II of Sweden, Georges Clemenceau and (seemingly incorrectly) Winston Churchill.

The opening half of the sentence makes sense in some circumstances, but it can also cover a multitude of sins. Yes, compassion is a wonderful trait in younger people as it is in older.  But it is a poor roadmap for making important decisions in both private and public life.  As the young grow and mature, they ideally become wiser and discover that feelings do not necessarily translate well into policy. They shouldn’t lose their heart but, instead, learn to channel their emotions towards endeavors that actually yield results.

But young people have other things tugging at them as well. Among them are hormones raging in their bodies, the insecurity of discovering that they haven’t yet conquered any mountains and the strong desire to be part of a crowd. All those things make them susceptible to joining mobs.

It is not compassion that is motivating those cursing and threatening their neighbors or destroying property and looting. Kind hearts do not wish police officers dead or want to subjugate those of a certain color. Kind hearts do not break the windows of shopkeepers and steal their goods.  They don’t behead statues of saints in Catholic churches or deface historical monuments. Those rampaging in Portland, Kenosha and many other cities, are more akin to those who uncovered witches in the 1600s, tracked down escaped slaves in the 1800s, betrayed hidden Jews in Nazi Europe and enlisted in Mao and Stalin’s ranks in the 20th century. They are high on power and disorder, not on empathy.

They are also the natural outgrowth of the adults in their lives, parents, teachers, university administrators, reporters and government officials. Some of these older people know exactly what they are doing and benefit from manipulating hordes. Others have no idea that they are being used, naively trusting the same players they have trusted for decades, unwilling to recognize that the world has changed.

Ancient Jewish wisdom describes with horror a world where those in leadership are compared to dogs. Just as dogs seem to be run ahead of their owners, these “elder statesmen” and “opinion-makers” want to believe (or at least want us to believe) that they are the ones setting policies and running things. In reality, just as the dog turns his head occasionally to make sure he’s going in the right direction, so too have those who should be older and wiser abdicated their responsibility as adults, taking orders from those they should be leading.

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Timely Honesty

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 12 comments

One of the gifts of the Jewish calendar is that it keeps us in touch with the cycles of the moon. This Thursday and Friday, August 20 and 21, as the moon wanes away to nothing and then a tiny sliver of moon reappears and begins to grow again, we usher in the new month called Elul (Eh-lool). Among other things, this monthly cycle reminds us that as we go through difficult periods we should seek solace from knowing that just as the moon wanes and waxes so do our lives; better times will return.

The month of Elul begins a forty-day period that culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the time of year set aside for introspection, evaluation of the previous year’s triumphs and failures, and an opportunity for repairing damage and committing to doing better in the coming year. Those words are quick to write, but the concept is difficult to act on. It takes humility and honesty to confront our failures.

Not believing in coincidence, I was blown away when I just “happened” to download a “random” book from my library, written by Mitch Albom, whose Tuesdays with Morrie was a best-seller a number of years back. This book, Finding Chika, chronicles the author and his wife’s experiences running an orphanage in Haiti after an earthquake devastated that area. The book focuses on one little girl, Chika, who came to live with them in the United States when she was diagnosed with a difficult and terminal illness. As they supported her through this traumatic period of her short life, they became her parents in every way other than legal adoption. As she became sicker and died, their hearts broke.  Their misery was no less than it would have been had she been their natural child.

Mr. Albom writes the book through “discussions” with Chika after she died at the young age of seven. The whole book is a moving and inspiring refutation to those who think that goodness is extinct.  However, the part that made me think of  Elul and astounded me with its honesty and self-scrutiny had less to do with Chika and was, instead, a shockingly revealing self-evaluation by Mr. Albom.

In one of their after-death conversations, Chika asks her stand-in father why he and his wife did not have children of their own. His answer is brutal and includes sentences such as, “I have always warned you about being selfish, Chika, but that does not mean I was not selfish myself.” He explains that despite appreciating and loving the woman in his life, he delayed marriage to her. Then, despite not marrying until their late thirties, he resisted having children. There were so many more important things like enjoying time together and advancing careers. After waiting too long and finding that science cannot create life on demand, Mr. Albom grieves at sometimes finding his wife crying over their childlessness. Having a too-short window into the blessing of a child as the terminally ill Chika brings a unique love into their orbit, he writes,  “To this day it pains me. There are many kinds of selfishness in this world, but the most selfish is hoarding time, because none of us know how much we have, and it is an affront to God to assume there will be more.”

I was almost embarrassed reading this section of the book as if I had voyeuristically peered into someone’s life. Writing those words acknowledging the loss caused by his selfishness is brave and even heroic. God does not always grant children to those who desperately want them, but, increasingly, our society promotes having and raising children as among the least important and fulfilling of activities. I wonder if the twenty or twenty-five-year-old Mitch would have been strong enough to overcome his own leanings and ignore the anti-marriage and anti-family cultural messages surrounding him if somehow he could have read the words he later penned.

There are many pieces of wisdom that we only understand long after we need to implement them. Few five-year-olds brush their teeth because they intellectually comprehend the value of dental hygiene. They do so because their parents inculcate a habit and supervise until they can be trusted to follow through on their own. It is the rare teenage driver who thanks his parents for a curfew, for not allowing him to drive his friends home late at night or for insisting that he pay for his own insurance. Years later, he might appreciate his parents’ foresight. And when religion and culture encourage you to marry and have children when you are young even if that precludes (pre-COVID) exciting trips abroad, acquiring expensive toys and devoting oneself single-mindedly to career advancement, you might not recognize the gift until years later.

I thank Mr. Albom for his searing honesty and for acknowledging the pain of not always being able to undo every mistake once we later recognize its impact. I hope that his words hit home for some young readers so that they do not find themselves following in his remorseful footsteps. And I appreciate his modeling for me the humility and proper frame of mind in which to usher in the period introduced by the arrival of Elul.

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