Sunday, May 31, 2020

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a bar mitzvah where my connection was with the family rather than the young man. In fact, I had never met the boy. Arriving fashionably late, we were just in time for the speeches, and my introduction to the bar mitzvah boy occurred as he addressed the gathering. Up stepped a confident, good-looking, articulate 13-year-old, a child we could easily believe had never been anything less. But such was not the case.

As it turned out, we later learned, Ariel (as we shall call him) did not develop as most healthy children do. At 18 months he was making no eye contact and had mastered no words. He didn’t laugh. He would not look when things were pointed to. And he never initiated an interaction with others. The neurologist whom his concerned parents had evaluate him concluded that the boy had “clear autistic disorder.” Now what? The parents pulled out all the stops. They registered for early intervention therapy. They secured brachot from Gedolim; they poured out their hearts in prayer. Quickly and surely they saw the situation improve. When they took Ariel back to the doctor a year later, she looked at him and asked, “Where’s the patient?” She did not believe that the child standing before her had qualified for an autism diagnosis a year earlier. It was a miracle.

Most of us face challenges: difficulties conceiving, a child with developmental or health issues, problems at work or finding work, a child who needs a shidduch, an untimely death in the family; the list has no end. Let’s be honest. Miracles are hard to come by. Despite doing all the right things, unpleasant surprises are all too common. How we respond to adversity is the one aspect of our lives where we have some control. Sometimes, our prayers are answered: the perfect shidduch, the healthy child, the cure, the job etc. Sometimes, miracles happen. But do we recognize them when they occur?

More importantly, do we realize that the norm is so often a miracle in disguise? Do we not take the everyday miracle for granted? Just as life is filled with disappointments, what is far more common are the blessings of normalcy. Let us be grateful for these hidden gifts. Let us see and appreciate them for what they are: not the expected pars for the course in life, but the priceless and often undeserved boons of a normal existence.

By Leo BrandstatterBy Leo Brandstatter

Leo Brandstatter was the founding president of the Sinai Schools, and is currently executive director of the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind.