I wonder how much my children understood about last night’s book prize. When Daniel first told them that my book had won in a contest, Matan immediately asked, “Will she get a medal? Can I keep her medal?” Earlier in the year I’d run in the Jerusalem marathon and received a medal, and this was his association with winning. At the time I had tried to explain to him that I had in fact run only the half marathon, not the full, and that everyone who participated in the race got a medal – I was no more a winner than any of the tens of thousands of other runners, as I tried to explain to Matan. But he was just excited about the shiny medallion with the blue and white ribbon, which he wore around his neck for several days and which now hangs above his bed. Naturally he now assumed that if my book had won a prize, then perhaps he’d receive another medal to add to his collection.
The morning of the prize, the kids climbed into my bed and begged me to read them the next chapter of the “Kind Family” books. We were up to the chapter in which the family travels to Coney Island in a streetcar on a hot summer day, and Henny gets lost in the crowds. At some point in the middle of the story, my excitement and nervousness got the better of me, and I reminded the kids that I would be receiving my prize that night. “Read, read,” they urged me – they knew that when the clock turned seven, they’d have to get dressed for camp, and they wanted me to finish the story first.
In the afternoon, Daniel picked them up at camp and brought them to the cocktail hour preceding the ceremony, on a patio overlooking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. My son was dressed in a button-down shirt that he’d clearly buttoned himself – I fixed it for him as soon as he walked in—and my girls were all in their fancy Shabbat dresses with hot pink and bright purple socks beneath their sandals; it is always clear which parts of their outfits they insist on selecting themselves. When they came running to me, I felt my cup running over – as if all of this good fortune could not possibly be my lot. Once again I found myself trembling and overwhelmed. I knew that grace far outstripped merit; God had shone his countenance upon me, and I could only pray that the radiance would extend to so many others in the room as well – my girlfriends who were still painfully single, my divorced friend whose children were struggling and who was so eager to remarry, my former teacher who was now out of a job. I knew there was so much pain and sadness and longing in that gathering of those who had come to celebrate my achievement, and in spite of myself I winced.
But as I watched my four beautiful children run toward me, my prayers were for myself as well: “May these moments of joy and awe gird me so that I am strong enough to retain my dignity and stand tall on the overcast days, when the dark thunderstorms block out the sun. May I have the faith to remember always that the sun is still there behind the clouds, even if there comes a time when I may never see it emerge again. May I always remember the thrill of this moment, even in greatest pain.” This was a prize ceremony, not a wedding; but I understood more profoundly than I ever had why a groom breaks a glass under the wedding canopy.
My son was the first to reach me, and then the girls clung to my legs too. I’d been in the middle of a photo shoot, and I was standing next to a large poster featuring my book jacket. My son does not yet know how to read in English, but he recognized the image. “This is Ima’s book. And I am in it.” He pointed to the small print of the subtitle. “Is this my name?” I remembered a day when he was home sick and the proofs for the book were due. He had sat at my side as I read through several chapters aloud – I’d charged him with the very important job of pressing the “page down” button every few minutes. I reminded him of that day. I told him that he’d helped me write the book, and I could not have done it without him. He beamed.
The kids did not stay for long. We let them drink Sprite, a rare treat, even though it meant they would have to brush their teeth again when they got home. I promised that since the dessert would be very late, we would bring them home chocolate which they could eat when they woke up. The kids, of course, did not forget. When they woke up in the morning, they ran straight to the kitchen to search for their chocolate. They were dazzled by the waffles dipped in rainbow-colored sprinkles. “Get dressed, and then we can have our treat for breakfast,” I told them. I knew it would be fun to watch the chocolate drip down their chins, to witness their smiles of glee at the rare opportunity to eat sweets in the morning. But the real delight, for me, was when they asked me to read them the next chapter in the Kind Family books before they left for camp, and we curled up on the couch together. These are the moments of smaller joy that I can bear. This is the happiness that does not make me wince and tremble. I doubt that my kids will remember that they came to my prize ceremony, but if they remember our reading together, that will be prize enough.