ountdowns never work for me. I always start, neatly drawing up the chart and filling in the days, religiously crossing out the first few boxes. Somehow, though, I never get past the first week, my resolution slipping behind the 1,000 other tasks that demand my attention. My diligence fails and the chart lies abandoned, until I chance upon it and mark off the five-odd days to bring it up to date.
When Pesach cleaning, I find various dusty, partially completed charts behind fridges, or crumpled at the bottom of cupboards, stuck in an earlier time with days long passed stretching before them, silent and empty. I’ve therefore resigned myself to living without perfect little squares scaffolding the future, and instead try to manage with the hours and days and weeks and months spilling into each other like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas.
It comes as no surprise then, that I’ve never been much good at Sefiras Ha’omer. Each year, after the silver and white and crystal of the Seder, I resolve that this year I’ll get through the 49 days of the Omer with a brachah, the magical effects of the Seder wrapping me with optimism. My brachah on that first night rings strong and purposeful, sure of the many days I’ll no doubt count.
It’s with guilty disappointment, however, that I reach Lag B’omer, my commitment having dwindled long before the dying flames of the bonfires. My confidence has faltered through years of failed resolutions, and already on Pesach I can begrudgingly admit that it would be futile to even start counting the Omer. I haven’t once completed Sefiras Ha’omer, and I didn’t think I was ever going to.
Until this year.
Chumie’s mother smiles, but there’s a tender air in the room that speaks of raw grief and recent loss. She tells the crowd of Chumie’s love for mitzvos and of her strength to inspire and persevere and live despite the illness raging inside. There are tears in our eyes, for we all have had our lives feather-brushed by Chumie and have seen the truth ourselves: the heroic courage of a 19-year-old girl who bravely fought death in the most beautiful way, touching the hearts around her long after her petirah just a few painful months ago. We sit as her mother speaks of her, reliving her experiences.
“The Sefirah was a loaded time for our family, and for Chumie in particular. According to predictions, she was not meant to survive any longer; the three-month prognosis was up, and statistically, Chumie was not supposed to be alive. But she was. Breathing and living and defying science with her indomitable spirit.”
On Pesach, Chumie counted Sefirah, on a transcendent Leil Shimurim she medically shouldn’t have lived to see. And the next night. And the next. Each night she counted with a brachah, marking off another day she was alive. Hayom yom echad, hayom shnei yamim, each day again; renewal of chance and the gift of life for one more precious day.
I think of Chumie, and the joy and hope and tears that went into each brachah. A charted record of the miracle of life that Hashem was granting her, and the clarity to embrace and celebrate each day individually, to take each one, with its pain and struggles, as it comes.
Chumie, who loved song, would sing each night. Ad mimochoras haShabbos hashvi’is. Notes of hope and prayer; let me be here to count each night. Her family sang, her friends sang; a song, a plea, a prayer — Tisperi chamishim yom, let Chumie still be with us until Shavuos, let her live to count the 49 days and celebrate the completion of the Sefirah.
And she did make it until Shavuos. I think about what that last night of Sefirah must have been like for her. Joy and triumph and gratitude and a beautiful moment of celebration, the pain and sadness blurring in the light of a special milestone reached.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)
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