“You changed,” she said hoarsely. “You changed a lot, Shulamis.” I stared at her, not knowing what to say
The next few days are bittersweet for me. Bitter — well, obviously. Pinny had been a joy to have around; a pure, vivacious soul, whose sand clock ran out of sand too early for us to fully appreciate him. Miriam’s house felt different without his constant chatter and jumping around and singing and flying about.
Sweet — because I had Miriam back. Miriam was my best friend. We’d been through a lot together, and after years of her being my support system, I finally had a chance to pay her back.
We spoke, and we were quiet. She cried; I cried. A lot of emotions were processed in those few days.
“You are so brave,” I told her one evening. I really meant it. Miriam was unbelievably brave; with all her pain and sorrow, she kept strong for her parents, for her siblings, and for herself. She was full of emunah, despite the pain she was in. I was inspired by my friend as I watched her answer with patience and respect all the questions visitors asked her, which some of them didn’t deserve after saying insensitive things that made me want to throw them forcefully out of the room.
Once, during a lull in visits, Miriam raised a red pair of eyes to meet mine, and after a long pause, she spoke.
“You changed,” she said hoarsely. “You changed a lot, Shulamis.” I stared at her, not knowing what to say.
“When I left, you were so… unhappy,” Miriam said, struggling with the words. She was never a person of words, but I understood her. “You were just so — unhappy, upset at everything….”
“You changed, you became stronger somehow,” Miriam said. “Happier.”
I smiled. “Thank you,” I said softly.
“You are amazing,” Miriam then said, barely above a whisper. “I wish I would have the courage to change like that.”
I remained silent.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Was I really a happier person? I was doing well, in all areas. I had new friends, I was “with it,” the teachers were happy with me.
But was I happy? Was I really happy?
I haven’t heard from Mrs. Weiner in a while. Shulamis will be taking her finals soon… how will she manage? I hope something was arranged for her. I heard she’s doing well in school, so she must have some kind of system in place to help her.
It’s just so easy for people to stick to the labels they were assigned with, and live life not knowing they are capable of more. As the saying goes, “Everybody’s a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it would spend its whole life believing it’s stupid.”
That’s the issue with many people today, both young and old. Someone tells them something when they’re young, and their whole life they continue believing this false image of themselves created by someone else; a person, that, in most cases, did not even think of his words for more than a fleeting second before he let out this comment. It’s such a tragedy.
Most people don’t realize that the way they see themselves is the picture another person planted in their minds earlier on. It’s a shame some people aren’t aware what an impression their comments can make on the future life of a person and his family. If only I would have been more in tune with myself then, maybe all that wouldn’t have happened — maybe I wouldn’t have given up on Yonah so fast.
Don’t think about it, I tell myself. Just don’t. You did the best you could for your child at the time.
But doubt still gnaws at me, seasoned with guilt. What would have happened if I wouldn’t have believed Yonah’s teacher when she told me he was slow, lazy, and hopeless and would never get anywhere in the academic field?
What would have happened if I had ignored her, and instead of removing my child from the education system, would have given him one more chance? Would things have played out differently?
I don’t know and I will never know; but I will make sure that other people know what happens when you keep looking at old labels.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 882)
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