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Must we first be denied a gift in order to feel gratitude upon receiving it?
As the vernal breezes and budding bushes of April and May change to the sultry heat of June, it becomes clear that summer has arrived. And the beginning of summer heralds the end of the school year.
While I've got a number of years ahead of me before I'll watch my child in graduation gown and mortarboard march across a stage to accept a rolled and beribboned diploma, I've been to a fair share of mini-graduations, those ubiquitous little end-of-the-year parties that every kindergarten teacher feels it is her sacred duty to hold.
The children practice for weeks, bring home brightly-colored invitations, and invite Bubby as well. On the big day, they dress in white shirts and blue pants and skirts -- the classic Israeli outfit for important occasions, and sing their hearts out. They sing about becoming big, about learning and growing; they sing thanks to their teachers and mothers. Half the words are beyond their vocabulary, but that doesn't prevent them from belting them out with childish enthusiasm.
With nursery and kindergarten stretched out over four years here in Israel, and several children close in age, every June finds me shifting uncomfortably in a hard plastic seat as I listen to one of my progeny serenade me and exult in her passage to the future.
And every year, as they sing the words about their Mommy, the touching rhymes thanking mothers for all they are and do, I cry. As I rummage through my purse for a tissue, I think of another woman -- one I've never met, but with whom I feel a genuine connection.
FROM A TUNNEL OF DARKNESS
I was young when I read the book, just out of my teens. I had only recently started to date and dreamed of a rosy future surrounded by a devoted husband and cherubic children. A friend lent me the slender volume when I complained of nothing to read. It was the story of one woman's journey through infertility. With searing honesty, the author chronicles her trials and tests, her disappointments and near despair. It takes years, and much heartache, but she is finally blessed with two children. Their births leave her ill, but that doesn't diminish the overwhelmingly powerful love she has for the souls she has managed to bring into this world.
While the other mothers yawned, she was engulfed in emotion.
One of the very last pages of the book describes the kindergarten graduation of her oldest child, her personal miracle. She writes of the other mothers yawning, looking at their watches, snapping a few dutiful pictures while they mentally compose shopping lists for the grocery next door. She, on the other hand, is engulfed with emotion. She is sitting with other mothers, watching her very own child as he leaves kindergarten forever. She has emerged from a tunnel of darkness. She is among the blessed. When her little boy sings a thank you to Mommy, she unabashedly weeps with joy.
Although I had yet to find my husband, much less have children, I was deeply struck by this scene. Why, I couldn't help but wonder, does a woman have to struggle with years of infertility to be able to truly appreciate a milestone in her child's life? Must we first be denied a gift in order to feel gratitude upon receiving it? With the righteous indignation of the young, I found myself angry at the other mothers at the graduation. Simply because the blessings had flowed down upon them naturally, did they not realize how blessed they were?
Years passed. I married, and just several weeks after our first anniversary our first son was born. The next child was not long in coming. Infertility was not among my personal tests; my challenge was keeping my head above water as I awoke three times a night and changed more diapers than I could count. The days seemed endless, but the months flew by, and before I knew it I was sitting at a kindergarten graduation. I watched for a while, took a few pictures, held back a yawn, and snuck a look at my watch.
It was then that I remembered her. I thought of the scene -- of the previously barren woman rejoicing in her child, awash in euphoria over meriting to sit at a kindergarten graduation. And I wrested my eyes away from my wrist. I focused fully and unreservedly upon my daughter. I gazed at her delicate features, took note of her effervescence, reveled in her exuberance.
And when she reached the song about Mommy, I wept. I am a mother, and I too have my own little miracles. Thanks to the One above, I am among the blessed.