It was a difficult pregnancy with morning sickness well into the third trimester, swollen ankles and constant back pain. The labor was hard and lasted almost 24 hours before the baby girl came screaming into the world. She didn’t take to the breast easily and fussed the entire stay in hospital.
“Don’t worry, it will change once you’re home and she settles in,” the nurses told Beth.
But that didn’t happen and Joy didn’t live up to her name. She refused to sleep longer than two hours straight and cried during most of her waking time. There were no sweet coos of contentedness, no smiles and no joy. As she approached her first month, Beth and her husband, Michael, were at wit’s end.
“Hi, Honey. How was your day?” Michael asked, as he opened the front door, home from a day at work. He felt guilty leaving her alone with the infant, but was also glad to get away from the chaos for a few hours each day.
“How do you think it was? It was another day of Joy crying and fighting to be fed. I’m exhausted and the house is a mess. I’m done with this. She hates me. I wish I could trade her for a good baby,” Beth exclaimed.
“You don’t mean that. Have faith. She’ll outgrow this stage,” Michael said, reaching out to hold his wife just as Joy let out a piercing wail from her nursery. Beth pushed him away.
“Your turn. I’m going for a walk before I drop her off at a fire station.”
Beth walked to the beach near their home, sat on a piece of driftwood and looked out at the water. Warm tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Hi, God. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Beth. It’s been a long time since we talked and I’m not even sure you’ll listen to me.”
She hadn’t set foot in a synagogue since her mother’s funeral 24 years ago. Her father stopped attending and taking her to the children’s services and, as a young child, she didn’t think much of it. Religion had just been a non-entity in her life. They celebrated the holidays with extended family, but not in their own home.
Then she met Michael. He called himself “spiritual,” attending the reform Jewish Shabbat services on most Friday evenings while she took a yoga class. He didn’t wear a yarmulke and they didn’t have religious symbols in their house, except for a menorah at Hanukkah. He made it clear to her, long before they married in the courthouse two years ago, that he was comfortable in their individual observances of Judaism (or her lack thereof). She was welcome to join him at temple but he never pressed. They didn’t discuss religion at all until after Joy was born.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in you, God. It’s just that I’m not sure how to do this whole religion thing. Michael wants to have Joy blessed in the synagogue but I don’t know. I’d make a fool of myself and embarrass him,” Beth said.
A sudden breeze swept the sun hat off her head and she jogged after it. It landed at the feet of an old man, who scooped it up quickly.
“Thank you. I thought it was going to be swept away in the waves,” Beth said.
“He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed,” the man said, looking towards the water.
“Pardon?” Beth answered, confused.
“Psalm 107:29,” he said.
“Oh. Well, I’m glad you caught it. Thanks again,” she said, holding out her hand.
He turned to her and looked into her eyes, “”In Jewish history, there are no coincidences.” Elie Wiesel. Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. Go in joy.”
He placed the hat gently on her head and walked away.
“What did you say?” she called after him. But there was no answer.
Beth turned to gaze at the water.
“Was that you, God? I’ve heard that you speak in many voices. But I don’t understand. I don’t know scripture or Hebrew or anything about religion. I just know that I need help to be a better mother to my baby.”
When she arrived home, Michael was rocking Joy and singing the last few words to a Hebrew song she vaguely remembered. He raised a finger to his lips with a soft “shhhh.” He had swaddled Joy tightly and she was sound asleep, tiny pink lips making a sucking motion. He gingerly placed her in her crib and they tiptoed out of the room, carefully closing the door.
“Are you all right?” he asked when they were in their bedroom.
“Yes, I went to the beach. My hat blew off and an old man caught it and quoted bible verses to me,” she answered, changing into her nightgown.
“That’s odd,” Michael said, climbing into bed.
“What was the song you were singing to Joy,” Beth asked.
“It’s a traditional song my mother sang to my brother and I at bedtime,” he answered. “It was the strangest thing. It just came to me while I was rocking her. A change came over her: she stopped crying and looked right at me, as if she understood the words.”
“Sing it to me,” Beth asked, snuggling into Michael’s shoulder.
“Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.”
Beth closed her eyes and said a silent prayer, “God, it’s me, Beth, again. If you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.”
Written August 31, 2018 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts.”
If you have a writer’s soul and live in Alameda, please join To Live and Write in Alameda (info available via the link or in the Facebook group)! No experience necessary … members range from those who dream of writing the Great American Novel to published authors. No dues … unless you choose to be a Cohort as I am … many free daily/weekly meet-ups, reasonably priced workshops and focus groups and retreats, and tons of encouragement and support. Do it … you know you want to!
High Holy Days
Rosh Hashanah begins on sundown, Sunday, September 9th and ends at sundown on Tuesday, September 11th. This mark’s the beginning of the Jewish New Year and culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observed from sundown on Tuesday, September 18th to sundown on Wednesday, September 19th.
During these “Days of Awe,” we listen to the Shofar, calling us to open our hearts and ask for forgiveness of our sins as we close the final pages in the past year’s Book of Life and start anew.
Sept. 6, 2018: This was written one day prior to the birth of my granddaughter. She was delivered by Cesarian Section on September 1st, and came out in perfect health. Her mama wasn’t so lucky and had complications with hemorrhaging, losing all of her blood twice over and requiring a total of nine transfusions. It was an extremely difficult time for all of us, but my faith was never questioned and I prayed and prayed and prayed for a full recovery. God answered my prayers. Both girls were ready for discharge five days after all of the trauma. I noticed the nurse taking my granddaughter’s vitals had Hebrew writing on her rings and asked what it said. It was the “Shema.” Which confirms my belief that God is always listening and is so very good. Blessing to all who read this.