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Finding happiness in the mess of life (Sarah’s rules)

I bridled against my bossy older sister's advice, but I took a certain pleasure in following her instructions. Too bad she can’t relish the win
Sarah (2nd from the right) and her sisters, February 2014. (Courtesy)

Laying in bed at night, I work hard to shut out the mess that is the world today.

Life on its endless loop of stuff, so much of it unpleasant. Impeachment, indictment, hatred, illness, refugees, Syria, Kurds. My friend’s parent’s dying at a faster pace than I’d prefer. 

My own mortality. My husband Ira’s mortality. My fear of managing all things financial without him. 

Back when my older sister Sarah was alive and really even longer ago when I was still living in New York, I’d call her at home — no hour was too late, really — and find her settling in to watch a movie. 

I can picture her sitting in her chair, cup-of-tea in hand alongside a few plain cookies, her husband Michael across from her, snoozing in his recliner.

In addition to tea and cookies, Sarah approved of beer. (courtesy)

Tea is meant to be had with cookies, or so preached Sarah. You know, simple cookies like dry mandel bread, plain biscuits, and petit beurre. The sort of cookies you don’t really want to ever bother eating but would happily eat when being served them, alongside your tea, by Sarah. 

“Fine, I’ll eat them,” I’d say. Giving in to Sarah was what you did — we all did — and even if I bridled against it because she was my bossy older sister, there was a certain pleasure in following her instructions. She was so often right — there, I admitted it. Too bad she’s dead and can’t relish the win. 

Most of Sarah’s rules-of-life were simple. Avoid stress. Don’t read the newspaper. Any story you really needed to know about will make its way to you. Protect yourself from life’s meanness and unfairness. 

If the day sucked, Sarah’s favorite solution — beyond ice cream and the aforementioned tea and cookies — was a late movie, preferably with a happy ending, like her longtime fave, “Pretty Woman.” I’d say, “Are you kidding me? A movie about a call girl who makes it good with a rich guy?” But there was no arguing with Sarah on this one. The heady combination of Julia Roberts’ smile and Richard Gere’s sex appeal was the solution to life’s daily challenges, even if it didn’t make the world a better place. 

Or maybe it did. Sarah’s local world in Rosh Ha’ayin was a good place. A small part of the world, made better with lots of laughter and advice dispensed in person and by telephone — Sarah didn’t really believe in or trust social media — alongside tea and cookies. 

Today, in honor of what would have been her 62nd birthday, have a cookie and watch a happy movie. Sarah’s rules? They really help.

About the Author
Beth Steinberg is the Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. A believer in Jewish camping, Beth is a graduate of Massad and Ramah camps, where she learned the importance of informal education programs as a platform for teaching Jewish and social values. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change. Beth is also the Artistic Director of Theater in the Rough, engaging audiences with free summer Shakespeare.
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