‘Twas the night of the presidential debate, and we were discussing politics. My brother voiced his approval of Gingrich, and my mother said she didn’t trust a man who was divorced twice and is currently on his third wife. Anecdotally, she remarked that my grandmother mentioned that of the many couples that lived in her Florida building, it was a first marriage for only three of them. My father interjected that that statistic need not imply much, as many of the people lost their spouses in the Holocaust or due to other natural causes. Just that morning after shul, my grandfather introduced him to a man who was married for the third time. His first wife was murdered in the Holocaust. His second wife was raped and murdered, and their son died in an accident shortly after. Now he is married once again. “He was all smiles,” my father concluded.
When I heard my father say that, I thought, of course he is all smiles. That’s always how these stories go. And then I thought, wait, that’s always how these stories go.
I often think that I would not make it through the premature loss of another family member. I cannot begin to fathom the anguish of a man who lost two wives and his only child, particularly in deaths so brutal. The grief, the anger, the despair he must have endured every moment of every hour of every day, year after year after miserable year defies description. And yet, he surmounted the insurmountable. He rebuilt, he remarried, he still has a relationship with G-d. He is all smiles. This man deserves a standing ovation for getting out of bed every morning. And my reaction to his outstanding achievements was, of course, what else?
Because fortunately or unfortunately, there are so many people like him, people who have suffered and emerged, miraculously, from their experiences ready to take on life anew. These people are all around us. Until a few years ago, I had no idea that my neighbor has a grandchild who has been in a coma for eight years, or that the woman who always greets me so warmly in shul lost her teenage son in an MVA on Purim. The Ms are a family in Israel with nine children, and each one has a life altering/threatening illness. When I first met them, they were dancing around our table in the sukkah of our hotel. These people have suffered (and likely continue to suffer) tremendously, but like this man, they are always smiling.* His story, though extraordinary, is not unusual. Hence my reaction.
But I think we need to take a moment to consider that, how remarkable people are. Sometimes I feel like we don’t spend enough time doing that.
* Which leads me to think, counterintuitively, I admit, that sometimes, if we are not happy, it’s because life has not hit us hard enough. It has not forced us to appreciate all the good that is ours.