A century is a large amount of time and any significant slice thereof is itself significant. A child of divorce whose parent’s marriage ended after 13 years can be forgiven at his own sense of astonishment that his marriage has, with God’s infinite blessing, reached the quarter century mark.
Those who know us would congratulate me, but they would give all the credit to Debbie. There are those women, stable and sturdy, capable of sharing their lives with wounded men and restoring them. There exist in this broken and hollow world creatures of light who can give chase to the darkness in a man’s shattered heart. There are human seraphs the wings of whose healing glow can gently touch a man’s pain and make it vanish.
Debbie and I come from opposite backgrounds. My parents love me infinitely and have both been remarkable sources of inspiration. But the conflict I witnessed as a child was ultimately internalized. A child of divorce is born on the front lines. Witnessing his parent’s hurt, he is essentially denied a childhood, forced as he is to become something of a caregiver to his mother and father. Seeing that the world is harsh rather than tender, he puts his guard up and is unaware of a time when he allowed himself to be completely vulnerable.
Mine, like many children of divorce, is a life built on a bedrock of battles and it shows in some of the confrontations I have been prepared to endure for convictions I strongly believed in. But when you’re a young woman who stems from a marriage that is all sweetness and harmony, it can be an awakening to follow your newly-wed husband across the world from Australia to Oxford, England, right after your twentieth birthday. I was ready for the mÃªlée. Debbie was wondering what she had got herself into.
That she won over, and continues to win over, all whom she meets, due to her kind and giving heart, was perhaps predictable. Any one of the thousands upon thousands of people whom Debbie has hosted for Shabbos dinners over the last twenty-five years can bear testimony to the warmth of her hospitality and glow of her smile. But that she would flourish, amid an essentially shy nature, as a role model to countless women of how to be retain their essential femininity in an aggressively masculine age, was something that softened her entire environment. That she has done so while being the mother of nine children makes the achievement all the more remarkable.
Men ultimately fall in love with those women who bring out their best qualities. Among the innumerable stories I can recall was the time an important politician was coming to our home for Shabbos, and, since she was arriving with a large retinue, I asked Debbie to cancel our regular guests, among which was an elderly woman with no place else to go. Debbie told me she would, and that I was fortunate since, with even her own place empty, since she would be eating at the elderly woman’s apartment with her, I could have fit even more important people that Shabbos. “I remember when every soul was equal to you, Shmuley. That’s the man I married, and that’s the man you’re going to be.”
After our engagement we had a stormy period and I thought of calling it off. I interpreted Debbie’s gentility as detachment. I needed more than I felt she could give me. As I said goodbye to her and dropped her off, perhaps for the last time, I saw that her eyes were bloodshot. She said, “I know that you’re going to do great things in your life. I look forward to reading about it. Some people just have it. You’re one of those people. Goodbye.” In my stubbornness I drove off but stopped two blocks later. In my agony, two things went through my mind. First, causing pain to one so noble and gentle was a sin against God and goodness. Second, her words pierced the cynical layer of doubt that lacquered my soul and made me believe that God had given me, like everyone else, a unique gift. I turned the car around, begged her forgiveness, and we married a short time later.
At the Bat Mitzvah celebrations we have had for our daughters I have given each the same blessing. “There are those who seek attention, and then there are those, so strong in themselves, that they never require the validation of others. There are those who live life in the spotlight and those who, possessed of so much inner light, instead shine it on others rather than spending their lives absorbing it. My blessing to you is that you grow up to be like Mommy. Be one of those who radiates, and never pilfers, the light. Grow up to be like your mother and you will make me the proudest father alive.”
She has been the light of our family’s existence ever since.
There are three reactions to seeing a beautiful snow-covered peak. The first is the utilitarian. The mountain is so beautiful, to what practical, selfish use can I put it, like charging people for a chair-lift ride to the top. The second is the reaction of insecurity that leads to craving dominance. Look at the enormity of that mountain. I feel so small in its presence. I better climb it to prove my superiority. But the third is a reaction of pure awe and wonder. To simply sit back, behold the mountain in all its majesty and allow it to render you passive with its grandeur.
These are the three stages that we men go through in our lives with women. First, recognizing a woman’s beauty we seek to possesses it. Second, recognizing the power and hold the feminine has over us, we feel challenged and weak and therefore seek to dominate it. But then we reach a point in our lives, recognizing the awe-inspiring majesty of the woman who is our wife, that we just sit back and behold, amazed and grateful to Almighty God that, though we were never worthy, He gifted us men with soul mates so that we are never alone.
“I give praise you oh Lord, that in my affliction, you have sent a salvation.”
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” He is working on his next relationships book “Kosher Lust.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.