Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fifty


Many years ago, before Toby was born, Stephen and I took Yoni to his first sleepaway camp and then spent the rest of the weekend nearby, at a small bed and breakfast. In the morning we took a 10-mile bicycle ride through the woods and found ourselves, unexpectedly, at a beautiful hidden pond. Ringed by tall trees, the pond was completely deserted and still. Tiny white flowers floated on the dark surface and small dragonflies dipped and shimmered over the water. We couldn’t quite believe our eyes when we sighted the rough-hewn dock and diving board. The board, completely out of context, slyly winked.

It had been a long, hot ride and we desperately wanted to swim. The pond beckoned silently. Stephen went first, stepping purposefully onto the board, then slicing through the water neatly and with minimum effort. I didn’t see the board move. And now it was my turn. I walked to the edge, looked down into the unyielding darkness, and realized that I wouldn’t be able to do it. No matter how many times I readied myself by saying “one, two, three, jump!” my knees buckled at the last minute and the board flabbily shook in embarrassment. I was scared of so many things: the color of the water, not knowing what exactly was at the bottom or how deep it would be, the squishiness of the mud, the possibility of pondgrass, water bugs, seasnakes or worse. I longed to feel the cool water envelop me and I knew it would be a formative moment, but I just couldn’t take the plunge. And so I sat on the diving board and cried bitterly over it all: my inadequacy, my inability to quiet a churning heart, my absolute knowledge that I had ruined a perfect day.

Stephen stayed in the water for an hour, waiting for me to fight my demons. He didn’t cajole or tease or lose patience. He didn’t engage in any convincing games, nor did he sigh and exit the water. Stephen never gave up on me. He let me come to my own place of fear, and he waited while I worked through it. I am sure that he encouraged me, but what I remember most was his presence: bobbing in the water, smiling, waiting for me to be ready. He did not leave.

And then I did it. I jumped right into his arms and laughed with relief. And then we jumped over and over again, relishing the coolness, the sweet smell of the water, and the perfection of the afternoon.

Stephen turns 50 tomorrow.

Before Toby got sick, I had planned to mark this day with a no-holds-barred celebration. It hasn’t quite worked out that way and I hope Stephen will forgive me for this very public display of affection. In the absence of an actual party, I’ve decided that everyone should know how I feel about my extraordinary husband.

He is the gentlest of men. He can calm the chaos in my heart with a simple, warm embrace. He has patience in spades. He maintains hope like nobody’s business. He has unparalleled musical sensitivity. He has fantastic taste. He's a brilliant artist. And we all agree, that when Stephen is around, everything is more relaxed, more open to possibilities and just more fun.

Stephen is able to make a conversation with Toby into the stuff of legend. And he is the most incredible father: patient, loving, playful, wildly imaginative. But these words mean nothing, without actually seeing what goes on between Stephen and Toby. My own father gets tears in his eyes as he watches them play. I have eavesdropped on Stephen-Toby conversations and felt like I was in the presence of God. There is something ineffable, perfect and beautiful that occurs when the two of them forecast the weather in Antarctica or talk about chipmunk, wally worm and the gastro-intestinal effects of baked beans and cabbage rolls. Through his love for Toby, Stephen has taught me again and again how to be a better parent.

During a recent inpatient stay, Stephen spent the night with Toby and shared the room with a Hasidic father whose 2-year-old son has sarcoma and was admitted for dehydration. The father was highly observant, dressed fully in black, with black hat and sidecurls, the whole gesheft. The following morning, when I arrived, the man stopped me in the hall outside the room. Usually Hasidic men do not talk to women outside of their immediate family, so I was taken aback and apprehensive. He looked at me, directly in the eyes and said, “I have to tell you that I have never seen such a good father as your husband. The way he talked to your boy through the night, the patience he showed, was remarkable. You need to know this. He is something special.”

A wise friend once remarked that Stephen is my tzaddik. At first I translated that to mean “my righteous man,” but I’ve since learned that tzaddik refers to someone who does what is right and just in his relationships. I cannot think of a better description of Stephen.

So, remember how Stephen helped me at the pond? It’s the same way he’s helping me now. We jump, together with Toby and Yoni, into the depths of the unknown every day. We don’t know what’s at the bottom… it may be unpleasant or much worse… it could kill us. Or possibly, it just might choose to swim by and leave us blessedly alone. There are moments when we notice the beauty that floats in our midst and there are many more moments that are cold, dark and frightening. But I never feel like I’m alone in this pond. Stephen is always near me, always ready to hold out a hand to me, always there. Happy birthday, my husband.

I love you,
m

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Three times we have written to you tonight - and three times we started over again. We cried as we read tonight's entry and then we found ourselves at a loss for words. Thank you Mooki for sharing with us your very beautiful birthday letter to Stephen. It is every parent's wish for their children to experience the deep and genuine love you and Stephen share. Together you will continue to find the beauty in each day, to support each other through the difficult times and to celebrate joyous moments with family and friends. Happy 50th Birthday dearest Stephen. You are a talented, tender, generous and loving son. We keep you forever in our hearts, minds and prayers.
Hugs and kisses, Mom and Dad

Anonymous said...

Dearest Mooki and Stephen,
Your birthday letter moved me to tears; I'm in awe of your love and commitment to each other and to your sons.

I feel so a part of your family and I continue to pray daily for you all.

Happy Birthday, Stephen. You're an amazing man..
Keep the Faith!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mooki -- never thought I'd be writing this to you on this blog, but after reading your love letter to your husband, as well as your many love letters to your sons, I can say that you are really blessed.

Anonymous said...

this was under Post a Comment to the family. I hope you got it! gkeoni@msn.com said...
Hi Mookie,
I spoke with you previously..I have found an apartment for you, for September 1st, 2007. Please call me at your convenience. I am available 24/7. You may reach me at 917-204-0301.
Deborah
(friend of Valerie)

Anonymous said...

your love continues to be an inspiration, mookie and stephen. keep the faith....with love from the park slope community.

Tracy & Bruce said...

Courage charms us, because it indicates that a man loves an idea better than all things in the world, that he is thinking neither of his bed, nor his dinner, nor his money, but will venture all to put in act the invisible thought of his mind.

...Every natural action is graceful; every heroic act is also decent, and causes the place and the bystanders to shine.

Emerson

Happy Birthday Stephen.

Esther and Fred Brauer said...

To Stephen,Happy Birthday.Sincerest best wishes for many happy,healthy ,less stressful ones in the future. May all your wishes come true.
To Mooki,Thank you for introducing us to your wonderful husband through your beautiful writing style and heartfelt choice of words.
Esther and Fred

Barbara said...

Happy Birthday Stephen. And may the future hold more joyous celebrations ....Mooki, again your words continue to amaze me, as they are graceful and sweet. Through your words I experience your joy, fear, hope and the gammut of emotions you both continue to deal with. As always you continue to be in our thoughts and prayers....much love, the langs

anna said...

Happy birthday, Stephen! And thank you, Mooki, for your perfect description of my brother -- endlessly patient, gentle, kind and creative.
Love,
Anna

gisele said...

Thank you Mooki, for continuing to be the role model you always were. I am getting married in two weeks, and as I walk down the aisle I will be thinking about your vision of marriage, and hoping that I too can realize such a beautiful vision with my husband-to-be.
-gisele

Mirm said...

Could there BE a more beautiful birthday present? Undeniably the most gorgeous love letter I've ever read (apologies to Bryf)... Thanks for sharing it - along with your strength, candor and wisdom - with all of us. And happy 50th, Stephen.

Heather said...

Many Birthday Wishes to you, Stephen. And, thank you Mooki for sharing your beautiful letter. Heather

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Stephen! Thank you for being in Mooki's life. I cry and pray your beautiful family.
Elizabeth.