The last thing I told her before it happened was, “Oh my goodness, Aliza, you’re so tiny! You’re barely showing!”
My oldest childhood friend was starting her sixth month of pregnancy, and she had the cutest baby belly I had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to see how enormous she would grow in the months ahead, and neither could she. But neither of us got the chance.
At just 24 weeks pregnant, she unexpectedly went into labor. She delivered a 1.5 pound baby boy, who was immediately rushed to the NICU. Aliza’s early labor was an incomprehensible fluke–up until that point her pregnancy was completely healthy; even her doctors were stymied.
When I heard the shocking news, I felt so desperately helpless. What could I possibly say or do to help a friend going through this heartbreaking ordeal?
The answer came in the form of a Google document created by Aliza’s family, this sign-up sheet was not for meals to be made or flowers to be brought. It was of a more subtle and spiritual nature; it was for prayer. The document had 150 spots to sign up for. Each spot represented one chapter in the Book of Psalms, and signing up meant a total commitment to reciting your Psalm every day.
After just a couple of days, the sign-up sheet was bursting with names of people pledging to recite Psalms for the baby. There are currently over 200 names on it, many of which Aliza and her husband Shmuel don’t even recognize. Scores of friends, family members, and strangers were willing to contribute five, 10, or 30 minutes of their day to reflect and whisper a prayer to God for their premature baby. It’s the best kind of support they could imagine.
Reciting the awe-inspiring ancient prose contained in the Psalms, or tehillim, is a kind of meditation. Much of the poetry is thousands of years old, but somehow it is easy to find comfort in the rhythm and meaning of the words. The stunning beauty of emotion is present in every line.
Many of these chapters are credited to King David, the paradigmatic underdog. Celebrated as the boy who bravely conquered Goliath and became the King of Israel, the musical monarch faced adversity all of his life. He was tormented by his brothers, wanted dead by his father-in-law, and had to face the death of his son. Through his grief, though, David was able to see the light. His compositions show an appreciation for the natural world and the unrelenting knowledge that good will prevail.
The Book of Psalms is rife with many of the emotions that we experience today: grief and loneliness as well as joy and triumph.
When I pay enough attention to the chapters I recite for Aliza’s preemie, there’s usually a way to relate to what I’m saying and make the words personally meaningful. When my attention wanders, I recall our long-standing friendship. I think of her baby and hope for his recovery. I send out a prayer that this positive energy makes its way to the NICU and envelops him in an extra measure of warmth and love. I imagine that each person who recites psalms for him builds another supporting wall around this sweet boy, protecting him and helping him grow stronger.
Aliza’s sweet micro-preemie is truly a micro-miracle with his downy head of blonde hair and beautifully formed features. True to the Jewish custom of not naming a baby until his bris, her tiny infant is called by his mommy’s name–the son of Aliza. And although the little champ doesn’t have a name yet, he already has a huge fan base. And we’ll all be here, cheering him on, until he’s ready to make it home.