Saying Tehillim in the car was a well-practiced habit by now — davening for good news as I sped through the city streets
"Does your stuff… spark joy?” I asked skeptically. “That helps you get rid of clutter?”
“Yeah,” my coworker Allison replied. “It’s called the Marie Kondo method. You hold every item in your house, then ask whether it sparks joy. If the answer is no, you dump it. That way, you’re left only with the things that give you happiness.”
My fellow teachers and I were eating lunch in my classroom and discussing the new trend of minimalism that seemed to be taking over the Internet.
“Interesting,” I said, then took another bite of my salad.
“Her book is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have a copy in my classroom if you want to borrow it,” Allison offered, returning to her sandwich.
“I’ll think about it,” I answered, turning to my other coworker, Melissa. “Hey, are you still okay to cover my class last period today?”
“For sure,” said Melissa, looking up from her meal.
All too soon, lunch period was over, and the next batch of students filed in. We were up to one of my favorite biology lessons in the entire curriculum. After a short lecture on cell division, I taught the class a dance to model the steps of the process, then had them use Play-Doh to show what they learned. While they cleaned up, I pulled out a stack of worksheets for my last period class to work on with Melissa. When the bell rang, my students poured out the door, and I soon followed, running down the stairs to my car.
“Shir lamaalos, esa einai…” I recited as I drove through the north side of town to the doctor’s office.
Saying Tehillim in the car was a well-practiced habit by now — davening for good news as I sped through the city streets. We’d spent the past several months attempting surgeries and treatments, with no success. Our appointment today was to discuss a last-resort procedure with our doctor.
I reached his office and pushed open the heavy glass doors. Nat was already there, his office being only a few minutes away.
“I saved you a seat, best one in the house,” Nat said, smiling and gesturing to the burgundy chair next to his.
I plopped down and grumbled a greeting. I was always a bundle of nerves during these appointments, and today was no different.
“Hey, it’ll be okay,” Nat reassured me. “We’re going to get through this together, no matter what the doctor says today.”
I nodded in agreement, looking at the carpet beneath my feet.
“How was class? I know today was a good lesson,” Nat asked, trying to prod me into a lighter mood.
“It was fun,” I answered, breaking into a small smile. “One of my kiddos decided to start break-dancing at the end of the song.”
“That’s a first!”
I opened my mouth to answer, but the clinic door swung open and our favorite nurse, Sarah, poked her head into the waiting room.
“Helen and Nat! Come on in,” she said brightly.
We were ushered into a small meeting room, and the doctor soon joined us to discuss our last-ditch treatment plan. We discussed costs, then planned for medication deliveries, check-ups, and procedures. As the meeting went on, I felt my sense of dread return.
What if this is all for nothing?
Maybe we should spend our effort on another option, like adoption?
The doctor was explaining the treatment schedule when I interrupted. “Do you really think this is going to work?” I blurted out.
He studied me carefully.
“Honestly? Given your medical history, I have no idea,” he said in a measured tone.
I bit my lip, afraid that I would cry (again) in his office.
“But what I do know is that the two of you make a great team,” he added, pointing to Nat and me. “I’m serious — you two clearly have an open line of communication, and you’re always on the same page when I see you. I wish more of my married patients were like you.”
“Thank you,” I said softly, glancing at Nat. Naomi’s advice from years ago ran through my head.
No matter what happens, make sure the marriage is strong.
A few minutes later, Nat and I walked back through the clinic doors and into the lobby. Beyond the glass entryway, I saw that a thin, gray rain had started during our appointment.
“Looks like we have a plan,” Nat offered optimistically.
“Yeah, and apparently we’re a good team,” I replied, shrugging on my coat.
“I think it’s because we budget,” Nat said matter-of-factly. “We’re used to being on the same page and working toward hard goals together. First, our goal was to get out of debt. Now, it’s to build a family.”
“Well, let’s hope that goal is achievable.” I was grateful for Nat’s optimism but too down to match it. “At least we’re not taking out a loan for this, in case it fails.”
We ducked into our separate cars and drove home. I walked through the front door, desperate for something to distract me from my negative thinking. I decided to clean the kitchen — Shabbos was in two days, but I figured a head start wouldn’t hurt. I reached into a drawer to grab a washcloth, then startled as five washcloths popped out and spilled onto the floor. I peeked into the drawer, and a small mountain of washcloths in varying conditions stared back at me.
How many washcloths do I actually need? I thought.
Well, we don’t use paper towels anymore, so we need more than a few. But then again, we’re only two people, so how much of a mess will we ever make? Maybe there’s something to this whole “minimalism” thing Allison was talking about…
Nat walked in behind me, interrupting my train of thought.
“Everything okay?” he asked, tilting his head.
“Yeah,” I answered, “Just considering our washcloth situation. Maybe we should declutter a bit.”
“Declutter?” Nat asked skeptically. “I thought you got rid of every extra thing in this condo when we were on Baby Step 2.”
“I did sell off lots of stuff back then, but that was a while ago,” I answered. “Besides,” I added, “getting rid of stuff is apparently cool nowadays.”
“Well, we always strive to be the epitome of cool,” Nat said with a wink.
“You know it — the science teacher and the computer nerd. We’re so cool,” I replied sarcastically.
Then I got serious.
“Honey, I think I just need something positive to focus on for the time being. I promise I won’t get rid of too much stuff.”
“Got it,” Nat said, smiling. “Go ahead, then. I’m here for you too.”
Over the next few weeks, I set to work, finding unused items in our home and either selling, donating, or tossing them. As I cleared out the clutter in our home, I felt lighter and more optimistic. I even let myself daydream about turning our guest room into a nursery.
On the day before Thanksgiving, I found myself in our walk-in closet, tossing unworn clothing into a bin destined for a donation center, when I felt my cell phone vibrate. The clinic. My heart pounded as I answered.
“Hi, Helen? It’s Sarah,” her voice, ever cheerful, answered. Then, her tone lowered.
“I’m not calling with good news…”
I sank to the floor next to the bin of clothes as our hopes were crushed yet again.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 865)
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