Sometimes a tale can be happy. And then it can turn sad. Joy and sadness mixed together. Such is today’s story. The beginning will be glad. The ending will be sad. That is really the story of life itself.
I’ve earned a place in heaven. I made a match. I didn’t do it alone. This is how it happened.
My good friend Barbara and I, and our mutual husbands, went out to dinner one evening many years ago in the New Jersey suburb where we all lived. Our collective children were still young teens and below but our conversation veered to people searching for mates. Especially Jewish people. So, for example, I told her we had this friend who was in our ulpan when he was in high school. Ulpan is a unique method of learning to speak Hebrew. We used to pick him up for our class since he was too young to have a driver’s license. Even though we were closer in age to his parents we became good friends. He called me Shoshana and I called him Shlomo. My husband was always known to him as Elya. Elya gave him his first job as an intern working in a chemistry lab while Shlomo was still an undergrad at Cornell.
As the years went by Shlomo turned out to be an outstanding student. Not of Hebrew! He was a brilliant scientist and was, at that time, studying at Johns Hopkins to graduate with a combined PhD MD. I had no doubt he had an amazing future ahead of him (which turned out to be highly predictive) but he now needed a partner for life. All the hard work in school had stunted his social life and I knew he was now ready for a relationship. My husband, Elya, steered clear of these machinations. A job yes! A wife was not in his domain.
But Barbara was a kindred spirit. Her warm smile brightened a room. She was actually the most special of people. I can’t remember her without a cheerful countenance. And when I followed her in a diagnosis of breast cancer of my own, she became my inspiration. We both had breast cancer and we would fight hard. She was always optimistic. Things would go well. She had lost both breasts so what more could befall a woman in her 40’s? She made me brave. She made me forward looking. She was my heroine.
Barbara had a friend, a young woman, doing a PhD in microbiology, conveniently enough at Johns Hopkins. Barbara and I would make a deal. Her friend, Mindy, was a kind and loving young woman with numerous talents. She was a gifted artist and a people-magnet. Impossible not to like. Shlomo and Mindy would be our stairway to heaven. We would do this for them, for the Jewish future, and for ourselves. What more magnificent act could two women fighting breast cancer do than to bring love and happiness to a pair of brilliant and talented young people. We would not and could not let the cancer control our lives. We had a mission.
And so we did! It wasn’t long before we danced at their wedding, a wedding so full of joy that I can capture it today, all these many years later. The young couple is now approaching 60. Their lives have been fruitful indeed and they have multiplied. There are three grown, accomplished, lovely daughters, the first of whom will be married this year. I qvell!
But I qvell without Barbara, so sad to say. My wonderful friend has been gone for many many years now. Who knows how many more marriages we might have conjured up together?
And, as if I didn’t already know how rare and powerful a human being she was, Barbara showed me. She died a few days before her own son’s wedding. But, as always,she was a rock! Knowing she was soon to claim her place in heaven she made it clear that the “kid’s” wedding would be a simcha g’dolah! A big joyous event. There would be no tears. The dancing and the festivities were to be perfect and full of the spirit of a wonderful wedding. The rabbi was instructed to give a normal charge to the young couple under the chuppah, and not to mention the empty space that belonged to Barbara. This was no time for weeping.
And so it was. Misery was not invited to this wedding and the bride and groom remember the day as a day of profound happiness. There were only tears of joy. That’s how Barbara insisted it should be. With broken hearts we rejoiced as the new lives together began for her son and his bride. It’s not easy to celebrate in the face of compelling sadness but the entire community of wedding guests did just that. And as the chatan shattered the glass the simcha in New Jersey was heard in harei Yehuda, the hills surrounding Jerusalem. The cries of mazal tov echoed. Perhaps even Barbara could hear them!
And Barbara. She has claimed her seat in heaven. I miss her still.