I read, with great interest and sadness, the beautifully written and poignant article by Azriella Jaffe in this week's Mishpacha Magazine about a young woman with cystic fibrosis, fighting for her life. But aside from the inspiration and message of the article, a much greater issue emerged, eclipsing even the backbone of the story. The tragic reality of this young woman is that her family has chosen to keep her illness a complete secret. She is living a lie, and much effort and energy is regularly expended to keep up the game. No one must know that she suffers from cystic fibrosis. No one.
The question that begs to be asked is: Why? Followed by an immediate: And who says? I imagine the answer to the first is "shidduchim" (matchmaking); I am unsure of the answer to the second. Has the family consulted with a prominent Torah authority who ruled they must keep the illness a secret? It seems absolutely impossible to me that such a ruling would be handed down; for two reasons. Firstly, Klal Yisrael (The Nation of Israel) is characterized by three inborn traits, inherited from our forefather, Avraham Avinu: rachmanim (merciful people), bayshanim (modest people), and gomlei chassadim (people who bestow goodness and acts of kindness upon others). We are taught, for example, that the reason Hashem has struck some of our nation with the challenge of poverty is to enable the rest of us to snatch the privilege of helping our brethren. Wouldn't the same apply to a physical challenge, such as cystic fibrosis? Wouldn't the community want the privilege of rising to the challenge, helping the family and this young woman through their difficult trial? Entire organizations are ready and waiting to help the chronically ill; why deprive them of the opportunity?
Secondly, hiding an illness of this sort implies something shameful about it, which is antithetical to Jewish thought which believes that everything comes from G-d. This young woman was given the challenge of cystic fibrosis the way some people are given the challenge of arthritis, or jealousy, or wayward children. Where does the need to hide come from?
Thirdly, here is a young woman who is suffering unimaginably, physically and emotionally. Doesn't she deserve, at the very least, the support of her friends and family? Why exacerbate her suffering by making her undergo her nightmare in complete and total isolation--actually, in something much worse than isolation: in a total, fabricated, charade? We know that "a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved". Why should this young woman be an island? Why should her family be tormented alone? Why would it even be permissible to increase her suffering through this modus operandi? It is really quite beyond me to understand.
If it is shidduchim the family is concerned about, and if that is the root cause of making their decision to hide their daughter's illness, that would raise a very, very thorny issue, one that we, as a society, have long evaded. That's for another post--probably juicy, possibly of a personal nature. Meanwhile, I cannot judge this particular family, and I imagine their decision was absolutely heart-breaking. All I can say is that my heart goes out to them and their poor daughter. May she be granted a refuah shelaimah (complete recovery) very soon.
As I wandered around the party goods store on Tuesday, trying to glean some inspiration to infuse our home with the Shavuos spirit, I overheard a most amazing exchange:
"This vanilla extract is quite expensive here, I think. We'll get it from the other store," came a gentle, warm voice. "Come, children, you're doing such a wonderful job. Let's go now, please."
Okay, so she's one of those nicey-nicey mothers, you're thinking. Right?
Except that she's about 3 feet, 4 inches, and she can't be more than eight. And she has two very little children in tow, whom she is speaking to with all the dignity, maturity, and respect of a person ten times her age. I was so struck by this exceptional child. I tapped her on the shoulder and told her how impressed I was by how she spoke to her siblings. It made me truly wonder: where did this child's mother go right? How was she able to effectively train her daughter in speaking gently and wisely, in the art of patience and thought? I imagine the mother must model it herself; the apple seldom falls far from the tree.
Do you sometimes wonder about how your children treat each other when you are not around? Do you wonder what they are picking up from your personality and parenting? I do.
Pinch me, I believe I must have been dreaming. Four wonderful days in the United Kingdom, visiting Manchester and London, was absolutely "gorgeous", to use a colloquial expression! The people were so warm, the community exemplifies hachnasas orchim and vibrance; I was so inspired and enthused, not to mention privileged, to meet so many exceptional people. Thank you, England, for such a life-changing experience.
One unexpected treat was the soul-stirring view of the Grenadier Guards, parading down the street in front of Buckingham Palace, followed by...Queen Elizabeth herself! We were close enough to the soldiers to touch their furry hats (did you know they have a whitish horn on the side, embedded in the fur?). I have to say it filled me with such a sense of awe and majesty that this year, on Rosh Hashanah, I will be able to recall that sensation and have a tiny inkling of "malchus", royalty. It is always amazing to me to realize how G-d has created the world such that everything, down to the minutest detail, can be a springboard for spiritual reflection. We only need to find it. There's the rub.
For those of you who may have noticed my dereliction in the blogging department, I offer only a humble apology and none of the conventional excuses ("I've been so busy!", "Had blogger's block!", "Cat ate the mouse!"). It feels good to be back, kind of like visiting an old romping grounds. Do I have anything of note to say today? Maybe yes, maybe no. I will only really know once I get started.
To catch you up on my life, in case you're interested, I've just ended my serial story, Shattered Glass. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the storyline had to be irrevocably altered, which caused no small amount of author and reader frustration. But nothing that happens in this world is purposeless. I have learned a lot from the experience and I am now happy to move on to the next project. Another spectacular serial waits in the wings, b'ezras Hashem (with G-d's help).
If you're in England, come see me on Sunday night, May 9th, in Manchester, or on Tuesday night in London! I'll be speaking about a very timely and magical topic, and it's an evening of "Life, Laughter, and Inspiration"--hopefully you can't go too wrong with that, huh? I'm looking forward to seeing the UK up close and personal. My children would like to know if I can make one of the Queen's Guard (I'm sure there's a different name for them, but too lazy to search for it!) soldiers laugh.
Well, I guess I just wanted to say hi and I'm back. Hopefully something more substantial will follow...
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.