“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.”