By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
The Facebook message popped up in a most understated way, as if I often gave the go-ahead to speak at other events. Which I didn’t.
But scrolling through our conversation that took place four months ago, in July, led me to assume that I had probably been getting a manicure or sitting on the beach when Michele asked me if I’d speak to a local group of women about how to turn life’s lemons into lemonade.
Because that’s the only way I could imagine being game about speaking to an audience about anything.
I was likely feeling super-relaxed, with all my kids in camp, and possibly even considered that there’d never be a November 2021, because that’s the only reason I could imagine responding in the affirmative to a request like that.
In short, I don’t speak publicly.
When anyone asks me to speak at any event (which has happened a fair amount since I started writing a weekly column), I kindly decline and add that while I’d love to oblige, I’m simply too nervous getting up in front of a crowd to speak about any subject.
Often, people will ask me why it’s different to speak on my phone to thousands of people who tune into my stories daily, and my answer always is because it’s just me turning a phone onto myself or another person and conducting interviews.
Take that phone screen away and replace it with even a handful of people and I’d be a nervous wreck.
I also feel like I can’t be an authority on the different topics I’m asked to cover. My life’s story is my own, so who am I to suggest things that have worked for me but might not work for others?
All in all, I hope you understand that I overthink things to the point that it makes the idea of speaking publicly way too stressful.
Which brings us to the little dilemma of this coming Tuesday.
So, I figured that maybe I’ll write the article based on the things I’m meant to speak about and kill two birds with one stone.
It’ll ruin their Shabbos reading, but I’ll really try practicing my “No, thank you” response in my mirror pertaining to future speaking engagements and hope that works.
And I’ll also inform them tomorrow that I’ll be reading an article verbatim, so maybe, hopefully, no one will show up.
As I thought about mapping out how to articulate what helped me personally when Moshe passed and how to apply my practices to other life issues, I came up with a few things I put into practice that helped my kids and me tremendously. Some things are simply more of an understanding or a conclusion but, nevertheless, these are things that work.
1. Have faith. Sounds easy enough, but do we really know what it feels like to relinquish control and give it all to the One actually running things? To have that level of trust? To know that G-d wants what’s best for us, even if it might not look like that for some time?
At least for me, in achieving that type of relationship with our Creator by different means (prayer, affirmations), I’m starting to discover a mellower and less-stressed version of me.
This isn’t saying that a human is a nonentity in things. There’s definitely a partnership involved in life going in the direction we’d like for it to go in. It involves effort on our part as well. But communication is key, and when something occurs and I feel like nobody could relate to or help with it, I feel G-d’s presence in those moments, more than ever.
2. Practice makes imperfect but better. Forming habits takes time, repetition, and focus. Whether it’s incorporating healthy habits such as exercise or eating healthy, these habits aren’t formed overnight. It’s work, and it takes time to adapt these practices in your daily life. The Lubavitcher Rebbe famously stated, “If you think good, it’ll be good,” and it sounds almost too easy to be true. Change thought and things will change in life, too? And it’s not always exactly that simple, but it’s a powerful starting point. And middle point.
Be happier and the people you want in your life will want to be there instead of just feeling obligated to be there. Be hopeful and optimistic even when it’s not so easy, and you will start to see a difference in your children as well. They’ll feel more secure, they’ll be happier, and that, in turn, lifts parental happiness.
When I started having to do the unfamiliar things that Moshe took care of in the home, it definitely required a learning curve.
Prepping the Shabbos appliances, setting out the candles, taking care of the room lights—those things were his responsibility. It spilled over to extracurricular sports activities and the shopping for tefillin bags, suits, taking the boys to barbershops, and other man-centric needs they have. In the beginning, it felt strange being the only woman in certain places, but as I continued doing the things that needed to be done, it became routine and I no longer felt out of place about it.
I started appointing my boys to take out the trash and pre-light the Shabbos candles, and it became a family effort. It took time to make things habit, but now they are like the other things we take care of on a weekly basis.
3. Find gratitude as often as possible. Making a solid lemonade out of the proverbial tart and sour lemons of life sounds like it would be hard to do. How can you get past the direction your life has taken and turn it into something more palatable and gratifying?
How do you get out of that headspace that keeps one from being grateful regardless for the everyday, ordinary things?
For some, they’ll think it’s a small thing to wake up every morning just expecting things to go as planned. But when so many don’t have that luxury and you’re able to understand how grateful to be for that, you can start finding good in all matters, unfortunate ones included.
Everything under the sun is here for us to discover lessons within it. The word in Hebrew for “acknowledge” or “admit” is the same as the root of “thanks.” By acknowledging what happens to us and what we do, and admitting our limitations and challenges, we create the space and capacity for thanks and gratitude for what we have and are able to become.
We’re here because we still have what to learn. Never waste an opportunity to learn about what that might be. When my husband passed as young as he did, I felt an intense sadness for him not having the chances that I still do.
And for a while, I felt overwhelming guilt that I remained when he had to leave us all behind; they call it survivor’s guilt. But after a while, I realized that I was being gifted with an opportunity to raise our children, to be a good role model, and to teach them that when things don’t go as planned, there’s still reason for hope, gratitude, and joy. Like I needed to love and enjoy our life enough for both of us.
This makes me sound very Zen and cheery, and let me assure you that on most days you’ll hear me from outside my house without even walking in. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not happy for the most part, that I haven’t learned to live comfortably within the discomfort of this new life, or that I haven’t been able to teach my kids how to do the same. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.
And right there, among so much else, is a way to make a perfectly balanced lemonade, lemon curd, limoncello, or lemon cake out of simple, sometimes really complicated lemons.
It doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a life of leisure or fun. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have to do hard things. But it does mean that we could discover that within the challenges, within the discomfort, lies the realization that we’re stronger than we thought.
That sometimes our biggest strength disguised as a weakness was our secret superpower. And that we can go through a lot and still make it through and live a life of contentment and joy, sometimes even more deeply because of what we learned.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.
As one who constantly goes through lemons while also experiencing many many privileges, including a wonderous feature called a spell checker that just corrected my spelling of privileges-if someone asked me to speak about this topic i would feel quite annoyed.
I remember asking some women if they wanted to start a support group for something and they said -what’s the point of making a time where people can meet and complain? They really were quite unhappy with their family situation which was created by key decisions they and I had made. I had thought it would have been affirming to be with other people who had made certain choices but apparently they were not happy with the consequences of it and the uncertainty as to if this decision would actually benefit them in the long run.
So it’s okay to say that there can be lemonade but what it really is is that when one laughs the world laughs with you but if you want to cry then you will be truly crying alone because truly no one wants to hear it.
We can’t see G-d, many times we can’t feel G-d, and many times we really feel that He’s taken the other person’s side. We pray, we say -go get the bad guy- and He says -No. Therefore we end up with another generated lemon before we’ve had a chance to make lemonade out of the previous lemons.
So comfort sometimes does come from hearing how other people went through their challenges. That they made it through actually. They put one foot in front of the other and they might not have known where they were headed but staying in a dark place is not a choice.
Somebody needs you. Just keep going.