Someone commented to me recently that as our children get older, parenting becomes more complex and demanding, not less so. It’s a myth that your job is done once your children become adults. As the (somewhat dark) Yiddish expression goes, kleine kinder lozn nit shloffen, “little kids don’t let you sleep,” grosse kinder lozn nit leben, “big children don’t let you live.” And when life throws real curveballs at us or our families, it can seem dark indeed.
In his Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, author Bruce Feiler argues that there’s another, larger myth at play: namely, that life proceeds along a linear path, following a progressive story. That’s simply not true, Feiler contends. Life is messy, non-linear, and has no predetermined stages or “passages.” Our lives are regularly disrupted, and sometimes “monster curveballs,” or what Feiler calls “lifequakes,” arrive and throw us to our knees.
The first two parshiyot of the Torah are chock full of such “lifequakes,” each of which God let happen. God didn’t prevent Adam and Hava from eating the fruit of the etz ha-da’at; He didn’t prevent Kayin from murdering his brother Hevel; He didn’t prevent society from descending into utter depravity, chamas, for which everyone must be destroyed; and, finally, He didn’t prevent Noach, the survivor of the flood, from falling into alcoholism and worse. Some would contend that this is an extremely depressing message: people, when left to their own devices, inevitably mess things up. We bring on our own lifequakes.
The life challenges are real, but Bruce Feiler is upbeat: he shows how we can create meaning for ourselves in the wake of such life disruptions and how we often come out stronger and better. But Felier’s view is limited to individual stories. There’s something larger going on that our parasha helps us understand. Rabbi Dr. Yoni Grossman in his book Bereshit: Sipuran Shel Hatchalot (translated as Creation: The Story of Beginnings) has a much more positive take on this repeated cycle of lifequakes. First – and this is a fairly radical idea – we should take note that Hashem has granted us free choice. We can directly contradict His will; He allows us to do so. Secondly, Rabbi Grossman writes (thinking beyond Bruce Feiler) how these stories show us that “history reflects a process, that history is not just a series of sporadic, coincidental, unconnected events. Rather, there is an ultimate purpose to the course of history, that gradually, painstakingly, reality will reach an ideal state, and that once-lost paradise will be regained.” There may be lifequakes for us at the individual or family level, but we cannot lose hope that there’s a greater narrative being played out as well, one which will allow us to rebuild a lost and wonderful existence.
This week at our school brought opportunities to meet with parents of younger children who are new to our school as well as parents of older children who are seeking the right high school for their kids. Everyone wants the best for their kids; no one wants a lifequake. We should take comfort in the idea that no matter what obstacles we may need to overcome in the lives of our families, we are playing our parts in a larger, wonderful story – and, with God’s help, we will reach that ideal state once again.