My loving, Orthodox, friend Ivy Edelstein taught me that the Gemara teaches, “G-d sends the solution and then the problem.”
Thinking back, I have found this to be true so many times in my life that I can’t count them. It’s only been in the last few months, since my beloved husband, Millard, died, that I’ve realized so deeply how true the Gemara teaching is at it has related to my life and my children’s lives through the gift of Millard….a gift that I was given, to give to both of them, in 1976, to try to make up for the loss of the type of man I had envisioned for them (an honest, constant, loving, man of sterling character) as a father figure.
The solution unfolding:
I met Millard in the law school bookstore (where he was working) the week I moved to Macon, Georgia, with my two small children, to go to law school. Millard helped me select my books and carried them out to the car for me. The girl working there, later, told me that he never did that for anyone.
Through friends at the Temple, in Macon, I had recently met a sweet guy, who was very attentive and I was so busy with other things on my mind that I didn’t think much about Millard’s and my meeting other than that I thought he was very cute.
The problem unfolding:
The particular week I met Millard was — unbeknownst to me — the week that my children’s father had devised plans to try to tear us apart, because I had left Atlanta to move to Macon to attend school. His actions were the culmination of a father who was supposed to be thinking of them but always only thought of winning. That problem, which was the cause of out divorce, was always simmering but always manageable. However, it was about to boil over.
But, also unbeknownst to me, G-d was placing a loving solution to combat the line of fire, a major problem that was about to try to burn us. That loving solution was Millard’s presence in our lives.
I had decided to have a thank you party that coming Saturday afternoon and evening, for the people and their children whom I’d met in Macon and a few friends who had helped me move down from Atlanta. And so the next day, after buying my books, I kept thinking of how sweet Millard had been to me, and how cute he was, and I thought one of my girlfriends might be interested in meeting him.
So I went back to the bookstore to invite Millard to the party (with ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT that I’d be the one to receive the solution….through Cupid’s arrow). Millard readily accepted the invitation.
By 7:30, the evening of the party, all of the parents with children had left and I put my two exhausted children to bed. By 10:00 everyone else was also pretty much exhausted and had left. Only my date and Millard remained.
My date kept asking me when Millard was going to leave and I explained that I couldn’t be impolite with a request that he leave. I also explained that Millard was being very helpful in the kitchen with cleaning up and I suggested to my date that he might want to join us. But G-d had other plans and they came in the form of my date’s answer that he’d “just stay in the living room and wait for Millard to leave”.
Because we were dating, I could kind of could see how he felt Millard was being an interloper. But Millard was my guest and he was being so helpful to me that I not only felt caught in the middle, but (truth to tell) I was more than a little impressed.
In any event, I figured that by midnight, I’d ask both of them to leave and could get some sleep in preparation for the day before the start of law school for me and a new school for the children.
Millard and I were in the kitchen washing dishes and chatting. Close to 11:00, I sent Millard down our long driveway, to take out the trash, thinking he might get the hint that he was not my date. I checked on my date and he seemed to be asleep against the arm side of the couch.
Millard came back in a flash. He must have put on wings because I had been up and down that driveway, more than a few times, and I knew how long the walk took both ways. As it turned out, I think that Millard did have wings because he proved to be an angel sent by G-d to solve the problem that was about to consume my life the next weekend, the following Monday (a week from the start of school) and for weeks to come.
When Millard came back, and opened the door, grinning from ear to ear, asking, “What else can I do to help?” my date had had enough. He got up from the couch, abruptly announced, “I’ll call you tomorrow, Audrey!” stomped to the door, and left without waiting for me to say a word. As the door shut behind him, Millard looked at me, smiling, and said, “I wondered how long it would take for him to leave!”
Millard’s statement was like a bolt of lightning and thunder all at once. It completely woke me up from my stupor of thinking of him as a guest for one of my girlfriends to meet….with the new thought that this guy was actually very adorable and very funny! Then, when we began to talk more, it hit me again that “this guy” was even more than all of that and that he was actually there because of me (I can be slow).
We visited longer and were having a great time, but by midnight, I said that he needed to go. He sweetly agreed but immediately asked me if we could study together during the week (school was starting on Monday). When I answered that would be fine but that it would have to be at the house because I didn’t want to leave the children with a sitter to go to the library, he said that was no problem.
Then, he swiftly followed his agreement, by asking if I’d go out with him on a date the following Friday night. When I said yes, he asked, “How about Saturday night too?”
I laughed and answered, “Let’s try to study together first and then see how Friday night goes, before we commit to Saturday night “too.” I added that “We might decide that we don’t like each other by then….” He confidently responded, “I’m not at all worried about that happening”.
The next week we studied together every night at the house and knowing my rules about no hanky panky with my babies in the house, Millard was a perfect gentleman and left, each evening, with a good night kiss.
As Friday approached, he asked me where I’d like to go. I reminded him that the custody case was coming up that day and that I didn’t know exactly when I’d be back from Atlanta and was too worried about it to make plans for where to go. I asked him to make plans for around 8:30 after I’d have time to get home, feed the children dinner, get them ready for bed and have the sitter in place.
Millard agreed and added that I needn’t worry at all about the case because the facts would be a no brainer for any judge….that the judge would hit my ex over the head with the gavel and that would be the end of it.
As it turned out that wasn’t the situation but Millard’s advice not to worry was; because, by that time, the solution G-d put into motion was firmly in place for us (Millard’s attachment to us…he hadn’t even met my children yet) before the actual problem took hold (the results of that Friday).
The case was a disaster, of politically paid proportions, that on the following Monday required the intervention of one of the most wonderful woman lawyers in the country and all of Millard’s savings to overturn. Millard and I never did have the Friday or the Saturday night date, but Millard never left my side and was as steady as a rock in his help then, releasing butterflies from the tips of my toe to the top of my head, every time, and, later, in his place in our lives, keeping those butterflies coming.
Sometimes God’s gifts to us come in disguises and we can’t always see that the true gift is within and underneath the disguise unless we’re very fortunate to catch glimpses of the very amazing nature of the gift.
Although I initially thought that Millard was perfect, causing me to fall deeply in love with him, when I finally saw his flaws, such as sometimes being negative to new things and not being very social (of course, I have no flaws), I felt disappointed and embarrassed that my children might think I had made a mistake and had failed them again by not giving them the father they needed.
But the truth was that Millard’s faults had nothing to do with fatherhood or being a wonderful husband. He just had social anxiety. And, being an extrovert, I wasn’t prepared for that problem and so it took a lot of adjustment for both of us to jump over those hurdles together.
Yet, at another level, looking back, when I’d get so angry with him about those flaws (since social situations are fairly easy for me, social anxiety was difficult for me to understand), Millard would come to me and always softly apologize saying, “I hate for us to argue and for you to be upset with me” and “I’ll try harder”.
His sincerity (and attempts to do better) and his soft kisses, while telling me (also daily) how much he loved me would melt me every time…. and no matter how angry I had been at him, about what I thought were his shortcomings, those beautiful butterflies would flutter up in my stomach, as the recurring message that he was the gift I was supposed to have to share with my children.
As the years went on, the butterflies in my stomach became older and may not have fluttered as fast. But about two weeks before Millard died, when he said how much he loved the three of us and how sorry he was about not having realized sooner how to be less negative and more open and giving, socially, I melted again and realized, as the butterflies came, how open and giving he actually was whenever we needed him (giving the three of us us his entire savings to keep us together) and how social situations pale in comparison to what’s really important and can so easily fool us as to the beauty of a loving vulnerability.
Although Millard often closed up socially, at his core he was a man of sterling character. He was never frightened at the prospect of taking us on as a package. And, in opening his heart to us, he taught us to open ours to his. The exchange was a treasured gift to us, of the very best of an Angel (who made it down and up the driveway in winged time when he needed to overstay his guest status) that enriched our lives for almost forty five years.
Each time I think of the blessing of that loving exchange, those beautiful butterflies flutter again and again.