Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Okay, Beth"

“Take Beth with me? Do they allow that?”

I was at my weekly shiur, talking to a new friend that had just invited me for shabbos. In a short time we had discovered that we shared common ground—the organization I work for. Tzipporah was a sweetheart. She had also been divorced and was now remarried. I had told her it was really nice to see that there would (hopefully) be a light at the end of the tunnel for me, too.

Tzipporah had been working for the organization for years and became very close to Beth, a consumer in her late thirties with Down syndrome. The thought of bringing her away for shabbos with me both excited me yet made me nervous at the same time.

“I would have no problem with that,” Beth’s resident manager had said the next day.

The following morning, Beth came off the bus into program with a smile on her face. I gave her my usual ‘good morning’ and then casually asked her what she was doing for shabbos.

“Tzipporah!” She replied.

I smiled. “And who is taking you there?” I asked.

She pointed straight at me. “You!” she responded.

“Okay, Beth!” I exclaimed.

“Okay, Beth” she repeated.

Apparently, such news travels fast.

I became excited at the thought of spending shabbos with Beth. As a supervisor of her day program, I never get to see her, or any other consumer, away from typical day hours and routine. I also felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to be trusted with Beth, and, of course, to be the one to get to spend a weekend with her.

Thursday night, I became a little nervous. Having Beth in the car with me and traveling from Brooklyn to Long Island was something I’d never done before. It was a huge responsibility on my behalf.

Friday afternoon, I arrived at Beth’s residence three hours before shabbos. Since it only took 30 minutes to get to Tzipporah’s house, we figured that once we arrived, we’d have time to take her for a manicure before shabbos – one of her FAVORITE pastimes!

Beth got into my car and put her feet up on the dashboard. She looked at me and smiled; I smiled back. She was making herself comfortable in my car, and was very relaxed, it seemed. She kept mentioning Tzipporah’s name, obviously excited to be going there for shabbos.

And so, we were on our way. Things were just fine until we hit standstill traffic. One hour had gone by and we still weren’t moving. I wasn’t nervous at this point since shabbos was still two hours away, but I gave Tzipporah a friendly phone call to inform her that we’d be a little bit late. A few more minutes passed by, and I started to see helicopters flying around the area. I turned to Beth. “Do you see all these cars? It’s taking a very long time to get to Tzipporah’s house!”
“So what,” was her response. She still smiled. Her feet remained on my dashboard. She even bounced along to the music in the car, on occasion. “Okay, Beth” she said.

A half hour later, police cars invaded the highway. They began rerouting everybody off the road.

“Look what’s going on,” I pointed out.

Worried that Beth would pick up on my nervousness that just started; I worked hard to remain calm. But Beth showed no worry. She showed no concern. She looked at me and said, “Okay, Beth.”

Once off the highway, we were back where we started, only this time – shabbos was an hour away. Tzipporah calmed me down a lot over the phone. She kept telling me not to worry, giving me alternate routes to her house, and encouraging me that it would be fine because I had an hour, and I was forty minutes away. To me, that was cutting it close. Had I been alone, I would have rerouted myself to a friend or family member. But I wasn’t alone; I had the responsibility of Beth.

“I know it’s taking a long time, Beth. But don’t worry. It’ll be okay,” I told her. I don’t think she realized that I was talking to myself when I told her that. It didn’t matter, because her response was “okay, Beth.”

Driving down some of the side streets, we hit some more traffic. I called Tzipporah in complete apprehension. “Are you SURE we shouldn’t find somewhere else to go?” I asked nervously.

“Don’t worry. You have until shkeyiah,” she assured me.

I looked at Beth. “Okay, Beth” she told me.

Finally, twenty minutes before shabbos began, we began moving fast. I said a silent prayer, and sped through the streets. Not sure where I was going, I had been following my GPS system. I realized I was about to miss a very important turn and so I quickly tried to switch lanes. Now stuck in the middle of a busy intersection, cars were beeping at me, and I could feel my heart beating out my throat.

The familiar sound of sirens became closer and closer, until a police car pulled me off the side of the road. I quickly got out of my car and before he had the chance to speak, I blurted out my story.

“I am a Sabbath observer, and I have a lady with special needs in the car. I only have ten minutes to get where I need to be with her and I am not from this area,” I pleaded with him. I think he sensed the tension in my voice and after looking into my car, he replied, “well, if you have a lady with special needs in your car, you should be driving more carefully.”

I felt stupid and irresponsible. But I truly felt that Hashem was watching over us because I was driving a precious soul with me.

“I am sorry, officer. I am just extremely nervous.” He was understanding, and showed me the right way to go.

When he was gone, I looked at Beth. I was embarrassed, felt foolish, and was so frustrated at this point.

“Are you okay, Beth?” I asked in a small voice.

“Okay, Beth” was her response.

At 8:00 on the dot, we pulled onto Tzipporah’s street. Beth began giggling, now knowing where we were. It didn’t matter that it took three hours, or that we hit uncontrollable traffic. It didn’t matter that we rerouted ourselves a million times, or that we almost missed the z’man. It didn’t even matter that we had an encounter with a police officer. She was just genuinely happy to be there. Nothing else mattered.

We parked the car and I ran in to light candles. We had made it just in time.

After shabbos began, I looked over at Beth. Tzipporah was hugging her. She had a huge smile plastered across her face. When she sat down on the couch, I sat down next to her. I grabbed her in a hug and silently thanked G-d for allowing her to be the passenger in my car during this stressful trip. If not for her, I don’t think we would’ve made it.

Who else would remain so calm during such agonizing stress? I had envisioned, more than once, spending shabbos with Beth on the side of the road.

Beth had a pure neshama. Everything was always “okay.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

One Foot In Front Of The Other

The rain came down hard and the wind blew my umbrella so fierce that it flipped inside out. The bus was fifty feet away -- to me, about a thirty second walk; for Miri, much longer.I am a supervisor in a day hab program for adults with special needs. Miri is one of my consumers. Though she is one of 120, I can easily single her out because she never fails to make an impact on me. Everyday, Miri walks with her walker to get where she needs to go. Everyday, she struggles because she takes each step slowly and carefully so that she doesn't fall. Everyday, Miri amazes me because she never gives up.This particular Friday, after Miri finally made it to the bus amidst the violent rain, she realized she needed to use the washroom. "Oh no," came the moans and groans from the bus. "If Miri leaves the bus, we'll NEVER get out of here..."I looked around. Miri's counselor had already left for the day. After all, she had done her job by placing Miri on the bus, and it was a short Friday. Day hab was officially over. In the blink of an eye, I flipped my umbrella back the way it was supposed to be, and helped Miri climb down the stairs. We were instantly hit with a rush of rain as the sky got blacker and blacker. Miri looked anxious as the passengers on the bus just kept on getting more annoyed. She put one step in front of the other, slowly and carefully. With one hand on her walker, and one hand on the umbrella I coaxed her to keep going, but as I peered at her face amidst all the rain, Miri didn't seem to need it. She carried a look of determination; a look of strength I don't think I've ever seen. By this point I was pretty much covered in rain, plodding across the puddles on the street, making sure Miri had adequate head covering. Of course it was difficult, considering the terrential rain that continued to fall, accompanied by strong winds, thunder and lightening. One foot in front of the other, Miri walked. "We're almost there, Miri, you're doing a great job, keep going..." came my voice. She listened, didn't respond, and kept walking. Five minutes went by. Miri didn't give up. Ten minutes later, we made it to the ramp. She carefully walked into the building as I held open the door for her. When we entered the building, she pulled the hood from her jacket off her head and I was able to see a look of relief on Miri's face that soon turned into a smile. That smile seemed to say "I did it!" I walked her to the bathroom to make sure she didn't slip on the floor. The rain continued to fall, so I called for a counselor to bring a wheelchair to get her back on the bus. She zipped through the hallways, Miri sat down, and together they began their journey back to the bus, this time much easier considering she was being wheeled.The bus cheered as Miri got close. As the bus pulled away, I began to walk slowly back toward the building to finish my paperwork. I don't think I noticed that the rain was engulfing me. Instead I was focusing on Miri. How amazing she was, how incredible, to be so strong willed? How happy she had been just to walk independently to the building in strong rain to use the restroom?!If Miri was able to do one foot in front of the other, can't the rest of us? Shouldn't we also be so appreciative of simple things like being able to use the bathroom on our own?May this all be a lesson for us to be so determined, and may one foot in front of the other get us all to where we need to be!