Yesterday was my birthday. I actually love birthdays, being a cancer survivor and all and I love to celebrate it. I had dinner plans but during the day I had thought I had no choice but to be alone. Which I don’t like. On my birthday. Husband and eldest daughter both working. Younger daughter away at school. Father and brother live in Madison. Sister and niece have plans. Friends all have lives and are busy. Damn.
But then I received an invitation. A bonafide please come to our home and have lunch with us invitation. From a virtual stranger.
Somewhere around the middle of August I went with my daughter to an estate sale in Highland Park. She was preparing her move to the city so we were looking for furniture or other necessities we could find for a bargain. I know, Highland Park Estate Sale does not usually equal bargains but nonetheless we tried our luck. Everything there was old and smelly and we were mad at the false advertising. No lie when I tell you there was a bin with an unopened old box of Kotex pads from probably the 1960’s.
We turned to leave and as we did so a woman with two children stopped us. She asked if we were Jewish. We said yes and she went on to tell us the story of her dear friend who was dying of breast cancer. She asked if we would be kind enough to light candles on the sabbath and pray for her friend to heal. She told us of the power that prayer had already done for her friend; she had already lived over a year longer than was expected. She had been in hospice and then was able to go home. It was an amazing story that brought me to tears.
In the back of my cynical mind I expected her to ask for a donation for the candles. I even asked if she wanted money. Of course not was her answer. All she wanted in return for the candles was our prayers. Imagine that. That is all she asked for. I agreed to take the candles, light them on “Shabbat” as we call it and say prayers for her friend’s health. I was deeply touched at her commitment to our faith, the power of prayer and her unselfishness at seeking people to pray.
Leaving the sale I felt compelled to give her my phone number. I told her that I blogged for Chicagonow and that I would love to write a story about her and her friend. I also felt a connection with her that I don’t feel with many people. I could tell in my heart she was a truly GOOD human being. She said she would love to have me for a Sabbath meal sometime. I believed her. That Friday night I lit the candles and prayed for her friend.
Two weeks ago I received a phone message from her. I was heartbroken to hear that her friend had passed. Cancer knows no boundaries, it has no limits on who it takes. Her friend has four small children that are left with no mother and a father who has no idea how to take care of everything his wife did. But I digress.
In that phone message I was invited to come to her home for a holiday meal. This is our season of the New Year, repentance and the holiday of”Sukkot”. Sukkot celebrates the harvest in the land of Israel. Meals are eaten in an outdoor “Sukkah” that is built as a shelter as was done in ancient times. A shelter from the desert. I was invited to come and share this holiday with them and I had choices of when to come. I chose my birthday. I thought of what a beautiful gift it would be.
And it was. Never once thinking it was strange to go to a strangers home for a meal I was excited! Despite being Jewish I felt a bit embarrassed that I don’t know enough about certain holidays and their meanings. Her family is Orthodox so I brushed up on my knowledge of the holiday of Sukkot, what was proper to wear and what to bring. I certainly did not want to offend this amazing woman with a huge heart who was welcoming me into her home.
When I arrived I could see that she was visibly happy that I came. She explained that people nowadays are so wary of others and so full of mistrust that an invitation from a stranger may be perceived as strange. I had known in my gut the minute I met her that I need not worry.
I was introduced to several of her children (she has six) and her husband, father and friends. We then went outside to the “Sukkah” which was built on their deck. The table was set and prayers were recited. I could see on the faces of everyone the commitment to faith and the happiness it brings them. And then; food. And conversation. And laughter. And warmth. And a feeling that I had known them a very long time.
I had promised my husband I would meet him at 3:00. I was not able to turn on my phone and on the rarest of occasions, I didn’t care. This was not a meal or time to be interrupted by technology. Before I knew it it was nearly 4:00. I knew my husband would be worried as it’s not my style to ever be late without calling. But I was enjoying myself so much that the time had flown.
All too quickly I had to say goodbye. We made plans to talk and see each other again. As I was leaving I was referred to as a new member of their family. Complete strangers were now seeing me as part of their family.
As I drove away I felt as though I had just had one of the best birthdays of my life and it wasn’t even over yet. I was shown that the kindness of strangers really does exist. And that in itself was an invaluable gift I will always treasure.
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