Hunting for Blessings
I was having a terrible morning until I spent an hour waiting in line for the ATM.
I could tell it was going to be one of those days.
I had gone to sleep on Thursday night feeling like Snow White serenading the creatures of the forest, and woke up on Friday morning to discover Grumpy staring back at me in my bathroom mirror. My house looked like it had been hit by a hurricane, my fridge was bare, I hadn't prepared anything for Shabbat, and I was expecting 20 guests in ten hours.
I felt tired, resentful, lower than low. A miserable martyr disguised as a Jewish mother.
My husband needed money to go shopping, so I offered to go to the ATM. Maybe getting out of the house for a few minutes would do me some good?
My four-year-old, Ma'ayan, had stayed home from nursery school that morning, and I grumbled as we walked together to the nearest ATM. At least there was no line. The only problem was that when I reached it, I saw that it was flashing the neon green words, "Sorry for the inconvenience. This machine is temporarily being serviced."
I started walking to another ATM a few blocks away. Ma'ayan's pace was slow, and it was starting to drizzle. That was when I saw that there was a line of over 30 people waiting to withdraw money for their Shabbat shopping, and only one of the two ATMs at the bank was working.
I asked a balding man in a red jacket if he was the last person in line. He turned towards me, gave me a dirty look, and turned his back on me. I considered yelling at him, but then realized that picking a fight with this man probably wouldn't do much to improve my day.
A few hot tears ran down my cheeks as I recalled all of the inconveniences that had plagued me that awful morning: my messy home, the drizzle that was picking up momentum, this line of fellow Grumpies that snaked from here to eternity. And then, I remembered something.
I remembered a piece of advice I had read in the book Finding Light in the Darkness: The Toughest Challenges and How to Grow from Them (Targum) by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt. In this wise and moving book, Rabbi Rosenblatt writes about the tragic experience of losing his wife Elana to cancer at the age of 30, and the tools that they used to cope throughout her debilitating illness.
Rabbi Rosenblatt writes that during those terrible final years he and Elana found it especially helpful to remind themselves several times a day of the blessings of their lives -- the great love they felt for one another, their four beautiful children, their supportive community. On one of the last nights before she died, Elana Rosenblatt woke up her husband in the middle of the night in order to gasp for air and utter the words, "We are so blessed!" And she meant it.
I could continue to feel sorry for myself, or I could try to smoke out the blessings that had been hidden inside my horrible day.
So I decided, standing in that ATM line, that I also had a choice. I could continue to feel sorry for myself, as I had all morning, or I could try to smoke out the blessings that had been hidden inside my horrible, no good, very bad day.
It didn't take long for me to think of the first thing about my day that I had to be thankful for: "Thank You, God, for my health. Thank You that I have the strength to cook and prepare my home for Shabbat!"
It took me a few more seconds, until I noticed the older woman next to me in line, with her worn clothing and tired expression. And then I had it, "Thank You, God, that I can afford to buy food for Shabbat, and that I do not have to rely on charity. Thank You that I was able to buy my daughters new Shabbat dresses this past week." I thought of the four matching baby blue dresses that my daughters had chosen out, and smiled.
The rain got stronger, but I didn't mind. I looked down at Ma'ayan, and as I took her hand, I whispered to her, "You have so much patience! Afterwards Ima will take you to the store, and buy you something yummy!" Ma'ayan looked up at me, and pulled herself closer to my side.
And I continued to count my blessings. "Thank you God, for my husband!"
"Thank You, God, for my children!"
"Thank You, God, that we live in Jerusalem!"
As I finished up my blessings and looked around me, 20 minutes after I had initially joined the line, I was surprised to see that the people in the line seemed to be in a much better mood. As I looked back at the people behind me in line, I saw strangers laughing, and striking up conversations about the weather, and sharing their favorite recipes for chicken soup.
It took 40 minutes, but I was finally the second person in line. And then, as the man in the red jacket placed his card into the ATM, the screen suddenly switched.
"Sorry for the inconvenience. This machine is temporarily being serviced."
And would you believe that I didn't flinch? As I waited there with Ma'ayan for another full 20 minutes, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
The man in the red jacket turned around to pat Ma'ayan on the head, and to joke with me about the ridiculous situation we had found ourselves in as though we were old friends.
And that day, as I walked home on my tired legs, wet from the rain, my wallet no longer empty, and nibbling on the potato chips that Ma'ayan had chosen as her reward, I no longer felt like Grumpy. Or even Sleepy or Dopey. In fact, I felt like Happy himself.