My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


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At our Purim meal yesterday, we received a surprise visit from friends who just returned from 6 months working in Jewish outreach in India. That meant that I spent most of the meal in the kitchen staring at their laptop, ooing and ahing at their photos of the magical, rice-field-filled-village where they had lived, and of the incredible Israeli backpackers who had their first encounter with Shabbat and the light of observant Judaism in our friends’ makeshift bungalow, and of the kind local Indians who helped them out and welcomed them during their stay.

My friend also told me about aspects of their time there that did not feel so magical. When an Israeli tourist came knocking on her door at 11 PM pleading for medical help during a power outage because a motorcycle had just run into his rickshaw, or when there was no gas or electricity and they were expecting 70 Shabbat guests that night for dinner, or when she woke up to find a group of complete strangers camping out in her courtyard.

But my friend had a revelation during her stay in India. She discovered that by staying calm and maintaining a positive attitude, she could get through absolutely ANYTHING.

My friend’s revelation reminded me of this past Friday, and the extent to which I did not manage to follow her advice.

First, my 2-year-old’s babysitter cancelled for Friday morning so I had to prepare for Shabbat with Yoel’s help (make that “help”), and then the student who always comes to help us get the house ready for Shabbat called at 2 PM to say she wouldn’t be coming that week, and then I discovered at 3 PM that our boiler was broken so there would be no hot water for showers and baths. But, unlike my friend when the motorcycle hit the rickshaw in faraway India, I cried, I sulked, I resented, I yelled.

And even after I had cooked and cleaned and growled at my daughter until she set the table and I had finally lit my Shabbat candles, I felt just as embittered and down as I had all day long.

As nighttime descended over Jerusalem, what I really wanted to do was just curl up in bed and sulk some more. But I decided that it might cheer me up to go on my traditional Friday night walk to pray at the gravesite of the Gerrer Rebbes, the Imrei Emes and the Pnei Menachem, right on the other side of the market.

In recent months, I have found that the doors to the gravesite have been locked on Shabbat, so I have prayed outside the door to the men’s section. That was until a few weeks ago, when they started locking the outer gate leading to the gravesite, so I have been forced to pray on the street next to the enclosure, and withstand the curious stares of passersby.

But this past Friday night, I got to the gravesite, and found that something incredible (miraculous?) had happened. The gate was open! And not only that, the women’s section was unlocked, and while the men’s section was pitch black, the light in the women’s section had even been left on.

So I sat down and I talked to G-d. And as you can imagine, I had a lot to say. I told Him about how terrible I had been that whole day. How I had tried to be calm and positive, but had failed so miserably and how my whole family had paid the price. And then I cried some more, and felt like the worst mother in the world, and like a huge, whopping failure. A sulking, resentful, skunk of a human being.

After I’d been there for a while, I finally tried to cheer myself up by making a list of ten things I had actually accomplished that day. It wasn’t easy, but I squeezed out a few things like: “I cleaned the house for Shabbat.” “I made food for Shabbat” “I actually only flipped out at one of my children over the course of the day, and kept my cool with the other four…”

And when I was done with my list, I zippered up my coat and gathered up my courage and stuck my head into the men’s section where the actual graves are. It was really dark in there except for a bunch of olive-oil candles in large bowls. It was extremely creepy, and my gut was screaming for me to flee. But I had one urgent prayer that I just had to say before I went home:

“Please G-d, in the merit of these great Tsaddikim buried here, please bless me with Simcha, please bless me with happiness this Shabbat and this coming Purim.”

And you will think I’m nuts, but I walked out of that place practically dancing with joy, and walked the whole way home with a clown’s ear to ear smile on my face. By the time I got home, a bunch of guests were already there waiting for me. And for that whole meal, and for the rest of Shabbat, and even during the inevitable stressful moments of mishloach-manot sending and feast-hosting and costume-parts-gone-amissing of this Purim, I felt the expansive power of that happiness filling me with the calm and positive attitude that my friend had found in India, and that I had found this past Friday night when some forgetful Gerer Chassid had left all the gates open, just for me.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Etrenard

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5 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing with us the bad days also. Even that would have been enough, to know that the bad days happen to other people also. Hearing about your prayers, and how that transformed you, is truly inspirational.

  2. Ayalah Haas

    Sweet Jenny,

    I completely echo what Sharona writes. You, who are a constant giver to us Jewish moms (and your own family, guests, and neighborhood) gave us fans of your blog a glimpse that even a swan like you must paddle like the dickens below the surface.

    Please, please, please ask your amazing friend in Jewish outraeach who returned from her 6-month stint in India to share some of her practical tools and outlook(s) that brought her to remain calm during chaos.

    Thank you!

  3. i love the story and knowing we are in the same boat, all of us! what a relief. you did remind me of a question i have in the back of my mind – i once went to the arizal’s kever on shabbos and it was amazing but someone told me you are not allowed to go to a graveyard on shabbos?

  4. to answer nancy,
    the tzadikim (and all souls) have an aliyah on shabbos, so it is if there is nobody home…they are not there. (same goes for rosh chodosh as well.)

  5. Caroline

    Yes, I agree with the others who wrote thanking you for sharing not only the good but also the bad since it’s sometimes easy to think that you are the “only bad mother” out there and this reminds you that everyone has bad days and it can get better. After reading this I also prayed for simcha to enter my heart and home and I too feel lighter and more prepared to start the day since yesterday was pretty rough for me and my boys. So once again thank you so much for being a wonderful mom, a wonderful inspiration and an amazing person! Love and nishikot from Los Angeles…

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