“MY dear friend Helene died last week,” my mother informed me sadly as if consoling us both. “I’ll miss her terribly. She really changed my life and the way I viewed the world.”
I turned and looked into my mother’s face, aged not so much by years as by the losses and disappointments she has endured. She is not prone to “waxing philosophical” so her statement intrigued me.
“What do you mean, mom?” I asked, quietly taking her hand.
“Do you remember when you told me that you and Ray were planning to get married?”
I nodded, recalling the conversation with great discomfort. My mother tends to lead with her anxiety, and this conversation was no different. Her primary concern was not, as you might imagine, about his emotional commitment to me or his prospective financial stability. It was about his health.
“I think you should reconsider,” she cautioned me at the time.
“A man with diabetes may not live a long time, and you could end up a widow with children to raise on your own. Or what if he gets sick and you have to take care of him? It could ruin your life.”
Dagger words which punctured my heart with their fatalism even though Ray was in great health at the time. But considering that her own father died from diabetes when she was just two years old, understandable.
“I’m willing to take the risk,” I told her emphatically. “I may only have five weeks or five months or five years with him, Mom, but it would be more than most people have in a lifetime.”
My mother’s voice brought me out of my reverie. She continued with her story.
“I told Helene about my fears and all the problems I imagined you would face if you two got married. And do you know what she told me? She looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘Elise, STOP PLAYING G-D.’”
I HAVE thought a lot about what my mother said, about my own tendencies to believe that if I worry enough, care enough, intervene enough, micro-manage enough, I can ultimately control the events not only in my own life but in the lives of others, especially my children. As if by sheer will, desire and a sense of what should happen, I can determine the outcome and change the way life will inevitably unfold.
The Jewish antidote to our anxiety about the future is a five letter word called “faith.”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk once said: “Faith is clearer than sight.”
His words remind us that while human wisdom and understanding may not be sufficient to enable us to understand both the mysteries and tragedies of life, faith can provide the basis for belief in an inherent, holy order to the world.
Faith is sensitivity to what transcends nature, knowledge and will; it is an awareness of the wholeness of life and of the holiness of life.
Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar and physician, wrote from personal experience about our inability to know what the future may bring. In his early 30s, his brother David tragically drowned on a ship which went down with the family fortune, leaving Maimonides destitute. His words, although seemingly scientific, are written by a man whose belief in G-d makes all things possible.
“. . . Whatever a man fears may happen to him is only a matter of probability — either it will happen or it will not happen. And just as it is possible that something painful, worrisome and fearful may happen, it is also possible that, because of his reliance on G-d, the reverse of what he feared may happen. Because both, what he feared and the reverse, are possible.”
My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by spending a week hiking through Glacier National Park. He was as healthy as a horse and worked hard to stay that way.
I remind myself of that sagely advice from the Talmud whenever I begin to feel some of my mother’s fears about the future coming on: “Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you do not know what today may bring.”
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