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Anniversaries we’d just as soon forget

In the year since a stranger with a knife attacked me and my family at home, I've learned empathy for those who have suffered even worse

It was my anniversary last week. You post a wedding picture, and a sappy — or in my case, snarky — little caption, and people wish you well. If you’re a celebrity and you’ve been married as long as I have, 22 years, you deserve actual applause, apparently. I almost never get an ovation for still being married. Such are the pitfalls of famelessness. 

But another anniversary was biting at my heels as I prepared for Shabbat. 

This week marks one year since a stranger with a knife entered my house, attacked me — 30 staples in my head, cuts and bruises, but Baruch HaShem no permanent damage — and announced he was going to kill me and my entire family. He stabbed his knife through doors, our children hidden in the closet, none of us certain of the fate of the other. In the 11 minutes between the time I dialed 911 and when the police first arrived on the scene, we had loads of time to accumulate moments that would bring us back to that night. 

Of course, endless videos on the news of Israelis running to bomb shelters. That goes without saying. Those will always bring back the memories of rushing with my own children to the shelter, trying mightily not to seem afraid, waiting quietly for the boom. There’s even something comforting about knowing that in this, I am not alone. But there are other moments as well. Lonelier ones.

Sudden loud noises, a strange car in the driveway, a surprise early frigid snap as we’ve had these past few days. Footsteps when I was certain everyone was in bed. Sometimes the rush of adrenaline is there before I even realize what triggered it. This past week, in our bucolic suburb, a group of men attempting to steal cars were involved in a police chase/hunt. Messages went out on Facebook groups that the police had instructed everyone in our neighborhood to lock their doors and look out for men escaping through their backyards. Our doors are always locked now, not like before. And still, my husband and I circled inside the house, double- and triple-checking, just to be sure. We kept quiet, not wanting the children to hear what was going on. We poured tequila to slow our breathing and lower our heart rates. 

This is our new normal, one year later. We take calls from the D.A., talk court dates and testimony, I give a DNA sample to the same detective who came to my house and took photos of my injuries when they were still fresh. The school emails and asks what we’d like them to do with our children during a planned active shooter drill, and we leave it up to the kids, hoping that is the right call. We do this all quietly, not wanting to alarm them, not wanting to have to retell the story just one more time, because the telling of itself can deplete our energies and bring things rushing back. 

Sometimes, when I do tell the story, I can feel the listener tuning out. Not because they want to. Because they themselves are frightened enough that they shut down, willing themselves to believe that they are safe. That something, anything, is different about us. Because maybe then this could never happen in their house. 

We are okay, or as okay as a person can be. But that’s not the same as having forgotten. Some days we are quicker to anger, frustrated that others lack our new perspective. Often we just want to seem fine, because it’s easier than the alternative. Recently, I wrote a piece about trying to achieve forgiveness, and there were readers who implied that I was naive, or weak, or just plain stupid to forgive. People have said that if only we’d had a gun, things would have gone differently. People might want to keep those opinions to themselves. 

This will always be a day that we mark privately. No likes on social media or rounds of applause for having made it another year. If I have gotten anything from this experience, it is a heightened sense of empathy. For so many people who have suffered so much worse. For anyone who lives a life in fear that terrible things will happen. For a man who will be locked away for a long time, struggling with his own personal demons. On this, the suckiest of all anniversaries, I wish us all the ability to take a breath, and reserve judgement, and work to understand one another just a tiny bit more. I’ll bring the tequila.

About the Author
Leah Bieler has an MA in Talmud and Rabbinics. She teaches Talmud to students of all ages and backgrounds. Leah spends the school year in Massachusetts and summers in Jerusalem with her husband and four children. Sometimes she writes to get a break from them. The children, that is.
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