| Musings |

Why I’m Afraid

I’m afraid Mimi’s return will awaken within me my greatest fear of all

Hashem, Mimi’s coming back to work tomorrow, and I’m afraid.

I’m afraid my assistant’s first day back as a married woman will have her pitying me, her older single co-teacher.

I’m afraid of being unable to muster genuine warmth for the welcome back she deserves, and giving her a tight-lipped, saccharine smile instead.

I’m afraid she’ll float in tomorrow morning and gush, “Thank you so much for coming to my wedding! It was so… special of you!” in that voice reserved for small children and the elderly.

I’m afraid she’ll jump when her phone buzzes in her pocket, scoop it out, and see her husband’s name (YANKY!!!), and promptly forget that I’d been giving her important instructions just a moment before.

I’m afraid that after training her in as my co-teacher over the past year and a half, watching her develop from the shy, fresh-faced seminary girl ecstatic to have landed her first job to the professionally adjusted, well-respected 20-year-old who got engaged to Yaakov Green ten weeks ago, I’ll no longer take pride in her expertise, preferring instead to see her distracted and neglecting her responsibilities so I can silently gloat that the marrieds just don’t hack it the way I do.

I’m afraid she’ll talk to me about her burnt-supper woes.

I’m afraid she’ll talk to everyone but me about her burnt-supper woes.


I’m afraid she’ll sweep out of the classroom at 3:57 tomorrow, briefly apologizing and leaving me to complete the end-of-the-day cleanup usually meant to be done by my assistant, because her husband is waiting for her in the parking lot with an iced coffee.

I’m afraid of becoming the bitter single who can’t fargin the girl who was once her camper the joys of newly married life.

I’m afraid the secretary who missed the wedding will pop her head into my classroom tomorrow, wish Mimi mazel tov and rave about how good she looks, while I pretend to be tying a student’s shoelace, wishing I was invisible.

I’m afraid she’ll shyly redt me a shidduch next week, stammering yet proud, though neither she nor her fuzz-bearded husband will ever understand what it’s like to get excited about a suggestion, only to discover that there’s no common ground besides advanced age.

I’m afraid she’ll soon be expecting and I’ll feel guilty asking her to bring the parshah toys from the basement and the Scotch tape from the closet and the myriad menial tasks she was hired to do.

I’m afraid she’ll soon be two stages ahead of me instead of just one.

I’m afraid I’ll never catch up with her, this girl who is seven years my junior, whom I taught as a substitute when she was in ninth grade.

I’m afraid she’ll quietly leave the room to whisper on her cell phone in the hallway, lest the older single overhear her plans to travel to the in-laws for Shabbos.

I’m afraid she’ll lack the discretion to take the conversation out of the room.

I’m afraid my assistant will begin to rub shoulders with my chevreh in the teachers’ room — the ones who’ve been here as long as I have — because she now belongs to the club of wig-wearers.

I’m afraid of her sensitivity toward me.

I’m afraid of her insensitivity toward me.

I’m afraid my thinly veiled jealousy will simmer, then boil, emerging as a nasty, clipped intolerance for her annoyingly chirpy bliss.

I’m afraid she’ll realize that this transition is hard for me.

I’m afraid she won’t realize that it’s hard for me.

I’m afraid that beneath carefully applied layers of lipstick smiles and subtle sarcasm, my longing will peek through, raw and vulnerable, and all my practiced nonchalance won’t be enough to mask it.

I’m afraid she’ll notice the way my heart squeezes each time I peek over at her, each time I see her looking so settled and content while I’m still searching.

I’m afraid Mimi’s return will awaken within me my greatest fear of all…

I’m afraid my time will never come.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 713)

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar
    Faigy Peritzman

    The last line of Rochel Ellman’s article, “I’m afraid my time will never come,” must have resonated with many. It’s the tiny fearful voice in any nisayon that worries us that perhaps the yeshuah will never come.

    With that in mind, I’d like to inform the public of a worldwide Tehillim initiative geared to shidduchim. Anyone who would like to participate (open to all, not limited to singles) can submit a name for davening for a shidduch and receive a perek of Tehillim to be said once a week. It will only take a few moments, but it may be the extra push to tilt the balance for good.

    May this achdus b’tefillah be a zechus for all of those in need. To join this project, please email tefillahanon@gmail.com

    With a brachah of yeshuos k’heref ayin to all,

  2. Avatar

    As an older single I can certainly identify with the daily struggle to silence what Rochel Ellman deems “the greatest fear” as I attempt to live my life with joy and fulfillment despite my current situation. As someone working in the field of Jewish education for over ten years, I’ve found myself in the exact predicament that Rochel describes, multiple times. While I am truly happy for each new kallah, I’ve also learned to hide my tears in plain sight (not an easy feat when working with older elementary-aged students).

    In her piece, Rochel highlights a sentiment that is acutely felt by singles and those around them — the awkwardness of not knowing how to best relate to a single in potentially painful situations.

    A wise mentor once told me that as soon as someone feels that they have to “mind their p’s and q’s” around you, your relationship with them will never be the same. I have found this advice to be true, and so I’ve adopted a policy of frankness. For example, when it became clear that my assistant was heading toward engagement and she felt ready to have a conversation, I expressed my joy while at the same time having an honest discussion about the ambivalence of feeling happy for another while simultaneously experiencing intense feelings of longing. From that moment on, the awkwardness and uneasiness dissipated, and we continued to have candid discussions about both of our experiences throughout her engagement and newlywed periods. We remain friends to this day.

    The notion of being straightforward and not allowing single status to become “the elephant in the room” is something that I feel fortunate to have experienced in my interactions with my “bystander” colleagues. Another such example occurred the night after the aforementioned assistant announced her engagement. I received a text message from a colleague simply saying, “I am sorry that you are going through this. I am here for you.” There was something about the straightforwardness and sincerity of that simple message that really touched me. It was exactly what I needed.

    No one wants to be single, but changing our mindset regarding singles can prevent a great deal of pain and heartache. The reluctance to be straightforward when relating to singles sends an unspoken message that there is a measure of shame inherent in this challenge, when in truth the prolonged struggle to find one’s bashert is no different than any other nisayon and should be treated as such.

    If our community can learn to acknowledge that being single, though a painful reality, is not tragic but is in fact the best possible existence for those whom Hashem chose to put in that position, we will be displaying our emunah in Hashem’s unique plan for each of His creations. Perhaps in that merit we will be zocheh to see the yeshuos that we are so desperately hoping for.