It’s pretty clear that over the last year, I have had some of the worst days of my life.
I have had the scariest days, the angriest days, and the saddest days — all since last June.
But you know what?
I have also had some of the best days of my life too.
Yesterday was the happiest day of my life.
The first time we got the test back that showed the cancer markers were falling. Even though the diagnosis was still hopeless, well that was a good day. Then, when we got the first scan result which showed that –contrary to the expectations — the cancer was receding, even though we were told the cancer was still not curable, well that was a good one too. Then, when the surgery first deemed “impossible” was approved — well that was another great day.
And of course, our last Doctor’s visit, where I left the hospital singing — mmm. That was a really good one.
But the happiest day so far was last night at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
To dance, to see my kids with big, happy smiles, to see Stella dancing with her friends….
I simply do not have to right words to describe how that felt. I don’t think they exist.
After all the nightmare scenarios that we dreaded, all the nights laying awake wondering what might be…..
All the pleas I made to G-d to make that day a celebration….
All the tears that so many people shed so many times.
After all that, to laugh, to dance, to sing, and yes, to cry — but cries of happiness and gratitude — that made for a simply unforgettable and unimaginable evening.
I was quite nervous that I would not be able to have the composure that Stella had and get through the few words I had to say. But I did, and — to the best of my recollection — this is what I said.
Last year, we discussed what you would learn for your Bat Mitzvah. You said you wanted to learn something with me. And while I thought it was a good idea, we ended up having you learn with Rachel. And you did a fine job with your D’var Torah.
But Rivka, you know we did learn together this year.
And I’m sorry that the lessons had to be so difficult. I know, they were far harder than anything you could have imagined.
But I think what you learned will be lessons you will carry with you for your whole life. And I’d like to mention just one thing we learned.
And that has to do with the nature of strength, and where strength comes from.
And I’m not talking about the strength to run marathons and little things like that.
I’m talking about the strength to keep going when things get hard.
You can gain strength from friends.
Friends are great to dance with and wear silly costumes.
But the true value of friends is that they are there to help you when you need it. And this past year, your friends were great. And you saw that my friends and Mommy’s friends were always there to help us and provide strength to us. And I know that any time in your life, if one of your friends needs a shoulder to lean on, you will be there for them as your friends have been there for you.
And sometimes, your friends are not available. And then, you can find that the strength you need comes from deep within yourself. We all have these reserves of strength, that are only there when we really need them. But when we do, we find that we are capable of so much more that we ever imagined.
I am so sorry that I needed you to help me so often. There were times that I came home from the hospital and was too exhausted to think.
And even though you did not feel much better than I did, you made me French Toast and did the family’s laundry, and did everything else that I was too tired to do. And together with your brothers and sister, you made sure that everything got done while I was taking care of Mommy. That was true strength and you should be very proud.
But, there are times. I know. There are times when you can find no more strength from your friends or from yourself. There are times when you are overwhelmed and can barely keep your head up. There are times when, as King David said, you soak your bed with your tears.
I know. We’ve both been there.
And at those times, there is no other source. You lift your eyes up and talk to G-d. You can plead, cry, and argue with the Creator of the Universe.
And if there is only one simple thing that you will remember from your Bat Mitzvah, it is this:
You can talk to G-d at any time of the day or night. And while he may not always grant your every request, he will listen.
And that is where you will find strength. In speaking with G-d, you will find the strength to pick yourself back up and continue, even when the world seems so dark and scary.
And now we have come to the most important part.
You are about to get a Bat Mitzvah gift that is the best Bat Mitzvah gift that any Bat Mitzvah girl in the history of Bat Mitzvahs has ever received. I am going to ask your mother to come up and Bench Gomel (make a blessing for one who has recovered from a serious illness.)
And then Stella said those special words.
And we danced, we danced, we danced.
And I think we are still dancing.
How ’bout you?