What does it take to finally make someone write that article they’ve been meaning to write for so long? For this writer, that answer is “A baby born in the living room.”
I wanted to write a piece on how valuable our presence can be. Sometimes being with people in spaces of prayer or times of need is more important than anything else. I couldn’t force myself to actually start the piece, though. Then I got a call from my best friend telling me she was finally in labor, but it was just beginning and might be hours, so she didn’t know if I wanted to make the drive out just yet. For a brief moment, I had a vision of a long night and hours of just being in the way. Maybe I would wait until the midwife got there and assessed the situation. I asked my friend if she wanted me to wait or she wanted me there. At the edge of a contraction, she said quietly, “I want you here.” And so, I left.
Minutes later, in the car, schlepping my camera and a bottle of wine, I didn’t even make it out of my neighborhood before I got another call. With small wails in the background, I was told their little girl had made an amazingly quick arrival into her father’s arms. It was so fast the midwife wasn’t even there yet, but all was well. Although I had missed the birth, I continued on the long drive. That night, I spent hours there taking pictures and trying to do anything to be useful. I don’t know if I was much help, but I was there and I did what I could.
The midwife missed the birth, but arrived soon after I did. The majority of the work was done, but her presence and expertise were still needed. In addition to the necessary medical knowledge, her presence was calming to everyone there.
In the Misheberach prayer for healing in Judaism, we pray for those in need of healing in body and spirit. More often than not, there’s little to nothing we can do to heal the bodies of those we love. We are their friends or their family, not their doctors. We lack the training necessary for that. We may, however, be able to help them heal their souls. Sure we can pray for them, but we can do so much more. We can cook for them. We can visit them. We can laugh with them. We can give them a safe place to escape to. We can clean for them. We can use our talents and time to find something to do for those around us.
When we first moved to Spokane, we were here only days before members of the Jewish community came by with challah before Shabbat. Within weeks, one family offered to throw a small get-together so we could meet more people and our kids could meet more of their Hebrew school classmates. Last year, when my husband’s grandmother (may her memory be a blessing) died, Rabbi Hahn, the Chabad rabbi, invited us to Shabbat dinner. In Judaism, one thing often said to a family in mourning is, “May G-d console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Though there were no prophetic visions or burning bushes, we felt G-d’s comfort through the actions of other people.
Just days ago, a brand new little baby changed the world just by showing up. Hopefully her parents and siblings will be reminded of their importance in the world when friends and family visit to help, to bring meals, to play with the big brother and sisters, and to remind the family they are loved.
Our obligation to each other isn’t confined to the synagogue or church walls. We can pray for and be present for anyone regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Often, the best prayer we can offer is our presence. We may comfort ourselves by reciting prayers, but there is a sacredness in showing up.
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