Moshe and Malkie Hirsch

By Malkie Hirsch

Life has the ability to stretch past the point of discomfort. After all, challenges change us, don’t they? A fancy word for the way we evolve like this is neuroplasticity. It means the ability of the brain to morph with practice. It’s how we collect new skills, how we can learn to speak a new language or play a new instrument. As we try and repeat new things, we get better at them, and they can become second nature to us.

I think about the things I do now that I never thought I’d have to do. Some I could do without, but some have been rewarding and have taught me about personal resilience and strength.

Stretching yourself past what you think your capabilities are. Some of it sounds trivial and small, but to someone who’s carved a specific role out for herself, only to have to redefine it midlife is a tremendous accomplishment.

My life was busy and very rewarding. I did things I loved, I worked a little, I raised my children, and I was involved in my kids’ schools, in shul, and other worthy causes close to my heart.

I contributed and always wanted to be useful in some way. I used my talents to enhance different occasions with my baked goods.

Like many others, there were so many things happening in tandem but it was a happy chaos. It was welcome and also manageable. I had my familiar theme song on repeat.

When he died, it’s like everything was whitewashed. My canvas was blank, the music stopped, and the color had left my life. I didn’t know if I’d have the ability to do the basic tasks required of me as a mother, let alone the person, the creative, the artist, the me I had finally become after years of working on my identity as many roles tied into one person, as we women tend to do.

I was suddenly alone with little kids who needed me now more than ever before. Could I get back to me paired with the enormous responsibility of becoming both parents?

I remember the first time I attempted something basic like going through the mail. My mother-in-law looked on as I opened every piece of what I wasn’t aware was junk mail.

I’d open it carefully and peruse the letter inside and then deliberately place it in the junk pile after determining that it wasn’t something that had to be paid.

I made a comment as I worked on this and she piped up, “In the beginning, it seems daunting, but I promise that in a few months, you’ll know the junk mail from the important mail without even having to open the letter.”

Lo and behold, she was right. I now go through mail as I’m crumb-coating a layered cake for a birthday order or waiting for dinner to be done.

I multitask and I do it easily, happily without stress, and cannot believe at how the little things seemed impossibly intimidating. People sometimes wonder how I figured this out but there were no tricks; I just put one foot in front of the other and tried.

You have to be willing to be bad at stuff first in order to get good at it over time. That’s how practice works.

I think back to that scene from years ago when I wondered how the hell I’d ever pull off this thing called life without him. When the relatively silly, basic things would put me into a tizzy and I’d be calling him, desperate to know how far he was from the house so I could hand him the reins.

He used to arrive home between 7:24 and 7:30 for years, and in the beginning, I’d feel that time creeping upon us without even glancing at the clock.

It’s like your newborn’s witching hour, that period when time would move slower than usual because of his discomfort and you’d just pray for a helping hand or some relief.

I was like that newborn, and I was conditioned to wait until a certain time and when that time struck, I’d have someone to help me. For months after he stopped arriving home, I’d feel 7:24 before even looking at the clock and so many emotions would hit me.

The wondering how long I’d wait patiently for him to walk through the door only to remember that that would never happen again. The pain, the realization, the anger, the numbness, the resignation, and, finally, the acceptance.

At times, I still glance at the time on the oven and if I happen to spy that special time, I close my eyes a moment, and think back to the time when I was so dependent on receiving. And how I no longer have it or need it.

But how much I still miss it. How it’ll always mean something to me, because of what was. Like the nostalgia of an old song from high school.

This morning, on a quiet Shabbos, I awoke earlier than usual, at 6 a.m., determined for some me time. I grabbed the Perek Shirah I had been meaning to read through in English because I love understanding word for word what I say rather than just reciting prayers by rote.

As I read the introduction, I realized how special Yiddishkeit is. I read about how humans are the only beings in creation without a shirah because we have to compose our song anew every day.

Every creature on this earth (the animals and nature) and in the heavens (the angels) is given a specific task to perform day in, day out. That’s their purpose. They’re placed here to sing praise to the One Who’s created this wonderfully complex world full of beauty, possibility, and wonderment, but they follow a practiced script.

All but humans—we have to actualize our potential and bring it to fruition through individual, evolving performance. Is that an easier job or a harder one?

To wake up every morning knowing what you’re capable of and either striving for it, adapting it anew each day, or handing back the ability and not wanting to prove yourself to G-d, your friends, and loved ones? To take stock of what you’re able to accomplish and either go for it or waste what was handed to you?

I thought of that as I read through the way we only see the greatness of the wheat sheaf when it’s beaten and broken. In order to get the kernels of wheat and mill it for flour, it needs to be extracted from the plant in a certain way—in a violent manner that might make it feel like it doesn’t have what it takes to complete its task. On the contrary, though, that’s when we benefit the most from wheat. When it’s finely ground and we’re able to use it for man’s sustenance.

Sometimes people won’t understand their abilities and what they’re placed here to do. They might even think it’s impossible to do what needs to be done with the fate they’ve been handed. Sometimes, I wish I could just have my old, repetitive song back—the one that was instinctive and predictable, like the rest of creation has. I miss the “easy,” the “regular.”

At those times, I try to think about how out of brokenness, out of our greatest challenges, can be born the most beautiful, most meaningful lessons in life—the opportunity to change my brain, to nourish my soul, and inspire others … to compose my own unique, creative, ever-changing music of human potential. 

Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of just 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are now privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.

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