My daughters know that I am a big advocate of mothers staying home and personally raising their children. Among my seven daughters, tichyenah, I have a “mixed bag.” Chagi, a multitalented and exceedingly bright young woman, has managed with great self-sacrifice to be a stay-at-home mom and tend exclusively to the needs of her household, while some of her sisters march off into the world and make their mark. Predictably, there are moments of insecurity when she questions her resolve. My input then is to reassure her that there is a season for everything, and that down the line, she will not regret having devoted herself to her family in their formative years. Chagi recently called to give me an update on the success of her domestic venture. She related that on a regular basis, the mothers in her closely-knit community who work outside the home ask her to take their children off the bus and keep an eye on them if they happen to be running late. Typically, her house is teeming with action, a haven for the “latchkey” kids in the neighborhood. Well, one day her four-year-old, Efraim, came home from school and greeted her with an exasperated, “Ach, Mommy, why you ‘beez’ home all the time and I never get to go to Duvy’s house?” So much for gratitude, Chagi lamented jokingly. Another time, she continued with her woeful recollections, her daughter Leah’le complained that the other children in her class brought in mitzvah notes written on napkins and paper plates, while hers were always on pretty stationary embossed with the day of the week.Here again was the thanks she received! Was this, she asked me tongue-in-cheek, a commentary on the success of her stay-athome career? In a serious vein, all of us thrive on expressions of gratitude.
It was Mark Twain who commented that a single good word or compliment could keep him going for months. Saying thank you is also the most basic sign of mentchlichkeit, being a decent human being. It is noteworthy that the Jewish people are referred to by the appellation “Yehudim,” derived from the root word “hodaah,” meaning thanks. Moreover, upon arising every morning and realizing that we have been blessed with another day of life, the first words out of our mouths are “Modeh Ani,” giving thanks to Hashem. It is significant that in the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, the congregation is only obligated to say Amen to each of the baal tefillah’s brachos. The only exception is the “Modim” section, where we thank Hashem for the gift of life and its many blessings, which every individual must recite on his own. The implicit message is that others may be delegated to represent us in praising Hashem and making our numerous requests, but when it comes to giving thanks we have to do it ourselves.In fact, the commentaries point out that significant in the “Modim” tefillah is the passage stating that we thank Hashem for the good that attends our lives “at all times, evening, morning and afternoon.” They suggest that when we recite these words we have in mind three instances of “good” that Hashem has shown us on that particular day.
Needless to say, training our minds to have an attitude of gratitude and appreciation for the positive in our lives can be powerful and even life-altering. Studies have proven time and again that a thankful affect has not only psychological and mental health benefits but physical ones as well. Our niece, Mimi Lowenbraun, ob”m (who unfortunately passed away recently), is a wonderful case in point. She was a remarkable individual on so many levels. Everyone who knew her recognized her many exemplary qualities, yet few were aware of the pain she suffered for some 50 years because her positive, life-affirming attitude kept her pain under wraps. At the shivah, one person said, “Miriam was a thinker, an initiator, a sage spokesperson for children, disenfranchised teens, struggling parents and isolated singles. She was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met.” Another person said, “She was a woman of wisdom, strength, courage, depth and independence. She toed no line but that of the Almighty. She was honest, open and strong in all her ways, but always with kindness, love and a deep tolerance of human frailty and weakness.” Struck at the young age of 18 with a terminal illness, r”l, the doctors gave her no more than six months to live. With Hashem’s help Mimi defied their prognosis and lived 50 years longer.
Her journey was repeatedly fraught with debilitating health issues, but she always remained conscious, aware and grateful for the gift of life in the moment. She could easily and justifiably have complained about her compromised mobility, the huge, swollen leg she had to drag around with great discomfort. Instead, she was grateful for her husband, children, grandchildren, friends and the wherewithal, despite her limitations, to do avodas hakodesh at her husband’s side. She was a living example of “Yehudi,” “Modim” and “Modeh ani.” I think it is fair to say that it was this attitude of thankfulness that prevailed upon the Master of the World to grace us with her exalted presence for this extended period of time. Her inspiring and heartwarming presence will always serve as a living text. We are truly thankful for the privilege of having had her in our midst for 67 years, although we desperately wanted more. The humorous comments of our youngsters, Efraim and Leah’le, are entertaining and brighten the serious landscape of our daily existence. The hope, though, is that as they grow into adults, their perceptions and understanding, along with ours, will mature into ones that more closely approximate those of the Mimi Lowenbrauns in our midst. May her memory be blessed.