By Leah Bleiberg
PROMPT — During COVID-19 ...
As a proud etymology enthusiast, why did it take me 14 years to look up the origin of the word "step-child" when I have been a step-mother for that long? Well, I looked it up today and it's from the Old English "steopcild" (“stepchild”), which meant “orphan.” In my culture, a child who loses even one parent is known as an orphan, but I had not heard that usage in other cultures; therefore to see this definition came as a surprise to me. Typically, we think of an orphan as someone who has lost both parents, although having seen how much my stepdaughter has suffered at losing her mother when she was only 11, I stand by the one-parent definition.
There is a Biblical injunction that "You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan.” Exodus 22:21. I asked a Biblical scholar what the deeper meaning behind that verse is. He answered that when someone is already in distress, one should not add to that distress; a vulnerable heart may be hurt more easily. But, the idea, he explained, is that basically, everyone has distress in life and therefore our posture should be, as it says on my favorite magnet, "Be Kind: Everyone you meet has a challenge you know nothing about."
It's been five weeks now since my step-daughter has been living with us, along with her husband, three-year-old daughter, and newborn baby. Because the COVID virus came upon us just as she was about to give birth, we determined that she would come straight to our home after the hospital and that we would not interact with others to protect our "unit." And because we are afraid to break that quarantine, they are staying for an unspecified amount of time, which can be stressful. However, with the premise that emotionally healthy minds work on positivity and gratitude, I am working on coping better with what can be a particularly demanding situation.
Whenever I think of how I want my house back to myself, I think of all those who are living alone who would be thrilled to have a husband, even if it meant added childcare responsibilities. When I think of all those who are suffering from this dreaded illness, I ask myself what would they give to be home, healthy, even if it meant extra cooking, cleaning, and babysitting? When I feel the clutter of toys, strollers, dirty dishes, etc weighing on my need for neatness, I think what is a house for, if not to be used and enjoyed with family? When I crave quiet, I wonder what the endless quiet of a lonely home would sound like (As one of my single friends told me years ago, the silence is "thunderous"). When I think of all my contemporaries who cannot be in physical contact with any children or grandchildren, I feel especially grateful for these four delicious souls.
The truth is that it's all a matter of perspective. One must consider herself fortunate to have had a "normal" funeral for a beloved parent, when now, there are none, or to be happily married, when so many are not, or to have enough food, when many are hungry, or to enjoy each breath, when others are gasping for air.
Is the cup half empty or half full? Honestly, it is filled with half water and half air, both of which we need to live. Thank you, Al-mighty G-d, for every tiny little blessing that you have bestowed upon me, every blink of an eyelash that keeps dust from my eyes; every tooth that makes eating pleasurable; every bodily process that works correctly -- the parts that stay open that are supposed to be, the ones that stay closed that don't rupture.
Isn't it so easy to focus on every little annoyance, everything that's wrong or that doesn't go our way? It takes work to concentrate on the endless amounts of good that we are blessed with moment to moment. Please, Lord, let me focus on the infinite good that You bestow and let me smile at those around me, for many reasons but mostly, if for no other reason than You are the One Who has given them to me.
Leah Bleiberg believes we are here to do for others. Both professionally and on a volunteer basis, she supports many organizations, like Partners in Torah and Shalom Task Force. She holds a Masters Degree in Education, is a professional writer, Torah teacher, matchmaker, and mentor to those facing difficult personal circumstances. Leah and her husband, Joel, live in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY and are active in outreach, entertaining Sabbath guests and hosting Torah gatherings. They are the proud parents of a large, blended family, including several grandchildren. Leah maintains that every positive choice we make will tip the scales permanently to the side of good.