You can and should ask “why” every day. Just not the “why” you think.
One night last year, my sister-in-law dragged me to a shiur. I really wasn’t in the mood, but sometimes, we need to feed our neshama too. I was really tired. I had no koach (energy) to get dressed and go out. But my SIL urged, “This amazing woman from Israel is here, you must come.” I always listen to my sister-in-law. So I went.
I am so glad that I did.
That night, I met Chani.
We settled down, amongst a crowd of women who came, mostly knowing Chani, or having heard of her. They were all so excited, eager to meet her, as if a sister has come to town.
Chani came to the stage, a confident, strong woman, with a sad story. Diagnosed with a terribly aggressive cancer at the young age of 26, she was told by doctors that she had 6 months to live. Chani ended up beating all statistics and lived another 7 full years.
Strangely, what I remember most about that evening is that we laughed so much. I really did not expect that from a woman who had just explained to us how her days are numbered. Maybe not so strange, if you knew Chani. That was exactly her. She looked at life in such an incredible, strong way. And no, she did not look down at anyone, for saying they were tired, even with a clean bill of health. Chani understood us all, with simplicity and endless compassion.
She told us how the doctors gave her the grim prognosis, and, after wiping her tears she accepted each day, each hour as a gift. Every week that passed was a week she survived. A celebration. That was the moment that the shy woman she once was disappeared, and she became the overachiever, strong voice so many of us remember today. Because Chani knew, she needed to “get to it, or else.” There was no time to wait with her big dreams.
She took a good look at the essence of her motherhood, and all her relationships, and “peeled” away all the layers, as she herself so aptly put it. Removing all layers, and getting to the essence of “what really does it mean, to be a mom? A wife? A daughter?”
What are the layers, you might ask? The layers are the things we cover up the essence with. The time wasted with “shtuyot.” It’s dressing our kids nice so that we look good, for example. Or being selfish in a relationship. She removed all the layers and got to the essence, the bottom of it. Her clock was ticking, and Chani was determined to use every minute. Motherhood? It’s essence is preparing kids for life. So Chani got to it. There was no time to spare.
That thought made me think. Shouldn’t I be looking at life this way too? Isn’t my life a corridor as well?
We sat in awe listening to how much this woman has accomplished, in the last years, since the fateful day of her diagnosis. Her words still ring in my head: “People ask me all the time. ‘Chani, how do you have koach?’ and I answer, ‘I just do.’” I remember listening to that, and thinking to myself, how here there is a woman with terminal cancer saying she has koach.
And I almost skipped this shiur because I was too tired to put a sheitel on.
This incredible woman runs to give lectures, while spending every possible moment with her children, maximizing every second to the fullest (her words: living life like I am flooring the gas pedal). How dare I ever say “I have no koach?” From that day on, I think of her every time I am about to complain that I am depleted.
Chani continued, “People ask me, ‘Do you ask ‘why?’’;
‘Of course I ask why. Daily,’ I tell them. ‘I ask: Why did I wake up today? Why do I have such amazing kids? What is my tafkid today?
We are here for a purpose. Don’t live your life without purpose. Know what you are doing. Know what you want from your life, your marriage, your children. Have a goal. Because if you don’t know ‘why’ and you don’t have that goal, you will never reach it.”
With her children aged only 5, 4, 2 ½ when diagnosed, and desperate to leave behind something of herself for them to remember her by, Chani decided to write letters to her kids. Some form of memory and guidance, for them to cherish and read as they grow. Afraid that her letters will get lost or misplaced, she chose to post them online. People got to read them, and one thing led to another, ending with a book. “Baderech Hachaim” is a compilation of honest, real letters a mother writes to a child she will not be there to raise. At times funny but mostly poignant and sad, Chani manages to leave behind a legacy of truth. Prepare lots of tissues, because her poems and letters are not read lightly.
This week, with Chani’s petirah, I take a moment to remind myself that my life too is fleeting, my hours numbered even though I am healthy, Baruch Hashem.
And how more so I should utilize each second Hashem has granted me.
I remember to “peel the layers” and seek the truth of why I am here and what my task is.
And every morning, as I wake up, I will say first “modeh ani” and then “why?”
“Why did Hashem wake me up?”
“Why am I a mother?”
“Why am I healthy?”
I will be working to make sure I have a good answer to that.
Chani’s last message was for everyone to be happy after she passes away. It wouldn’t do justice to write it in English, so we left it in Hebrew as she wrote it.
אחרי שלא אהיה
בבקשה תהיו שמחים
לא בגלל שהלכתי
אלא בגלל שאתם בחיים
כי אחרי שנפגשים עם הסוף
יודעים להעריך את האמצע
אז תתרגשו מכל תינוק שמצטרף למשפחה
ותהיו זה בשביל זה בגדולות וגם בקטנות
ותחגגו את החיים כי הם ראויים
וזו תהיה ההנצחה הכי מכובדת ויפה