When we first moved into our decent-sized, two-bedroom apartment in a lovely neighborhood, it seemed perfect for us, a young couple still floating in our joyful first year of marriage.
Eight years later, with two active little boys and a baby, the apartment was starting to feel too crowded. On the lookout for a larger apartment, we weren’t able to find anything suitable within our price range. And besides, we were reluctant to leave our wonderfully convenient neighborhood, where everything we needed was within a few blocks. There was a large supermarket with an entire kosher section, the school, the pharmacy, our bank, the doctor’s office, and not one but two excellent bakeries to choose from. An amazing, reliable babysitter lived conveniently right in our building. Then of course there was the shul filled with other young families from the neighborhood. So we stayed.
Sukkot was approaching. Living in an apartment, we did not have our own sukkah, so were pleased to receive a dinner invitation from our neighbors, the Fineberg family. We knew them only slightly, just enough to wish each other “Shabbat shalom” at the weekly Kiddush. Though vaguely aware they were one of the more affluent families in the community, we’d no idea they lived in such a large, comfortably furnished house.
As the mother, Kayla, and her daughters graciously welcomed us to their attractive home, our 5-year-old son Michael gazed, wide-eyed, at the luxurious surroundings. We all moved into the adjoining sukkah, as impressively spacious as the rest of the house.
“Wow, what a nice, huge sukkah!” Michael couldn’t help exclaiming.
“Thank you,” smiled Mrs. Fineberg. “We like to have a big sukkah since we enjoy welcoming guests.We have perfect weather for Sukkot this year,” she added contentedly.
Actually, everything there seemed perfect. I’ve never been a materialistic person or jealous of others’ good fortune. Still, I could not help comparing the Finebergs’ comfortable lives to ours. They had that lovely large house with the convenience of a spacious sukkah right in their own backyard. More importantly, they were blessed with a delightful family as well. Their three teenage sons and two daughters were well-mannered, intelligent, and helpful. Even the food they served was perfect and deliciously gourmet, beyond even our holiday budget. There was a whole baked salmon encrusted with pecans, sweet potato soup, a wide variety of salads, and tender roast beef in a piquant tomato sauce.
Some people really have everything, I thought. The Finebergs are a perfect family. A quick spark of envy flared up which I tried, admittedly unsuccessfully, to squelch.
While we enjoyed the meal, I noticed that Kayla kept excusing herself to disappear inside the house. Perhaps she was checking on the dessert, I mused, which no doubt would be perfectly delicious, too. However, when the time came, all she brought out were an assortment of pastries and ice cream.
When the meal concluded, the fall evening had grown cooler so we all moved back inside the house. There, in a small room just off the kitchen, hovered a young Filipina woman.
She’s a stay-at-home mom with grown kids, yet there’s a Filipina nanny here too?!
That final covetous thought flitted involuntarily through my mind before my perception was forever changed.
“Linda, how’s Estie doing?” Kayla asked quietly.
“She seems to be breathing better now,” Linda replied reassuringly, though with a note of concern in her soft voice.
“Would you like to meet our little Estie?” Kayla asked me.
Stunned, I followed her into that little room off the kitchen I hadn’t noticed before.
There, to my shock, I saw a small hospital bed containing a little girl about 4 years old. A cocoon of tubes and wires surrounded her and an oxygen tank stood on the floor. Lying flat on her back, she stared up at the ceiling with blank eyes.
As she gently smoothed her little daughter’s hair, the sorrow on Kayla’s face was unmistakable. Suddenly, she seemed much older.
“When Estie stares upward like that, I like to think she’s looking at an angel,” she murmured softly.
Still stunned, all I could manage to murmur was an awkward, “Refuah shalayma,” wishing her well.
At that moment, Michael fortuitously started tugging at my hand. It was time to thank our gracious hosts and wish them a good yom tov.
As we walked home to our overcrowded apartment, I was unusually quiet.
I had come to the realization that no family was ever perfect.