I just experienced what were probably the most terrifying moments of my entire life.
I thought that my precious, beautiful, sweet little red-headed two-year-old girl was dying in my arms. Thank God she is fine, but I don't think I will ever forget the fear that pulsed through my body at that moment.
I was walking home with my family on a sunny Shabbat morning through the streets of Jerusalem's Old City where we live. Near the end of our walk home we had to climb a set of stone stairs. I was at the tail end of our group, facing backwards as I maneuvered our baby stroller up the stairs with the skilled technique of an old city resident. Halfway up I heard my little daughter start to cry, seemingly because she wanted something.
Before I even knew what was going on, as I climbed the last couple of stairs, I started to impart my usual line about how “we use words when we want something instead of crying.” As I scooped her up in my arms to finish telling her this, I could hear my husband and cousin attempting to explain that she had fallen and was crying for good reason.
But their words were just an echo ringing in my head, because as they spoke I quickly realized that something was very wrong. My daughter started arching her back as one might do in a temper tantrum. Then her body went stiff, her eyes rolled back, and she went limp in my arms. She very quickly turned blue in the face. I saw she wasn't breathing. And I started screaming hysterically.
I stood in the street hysterical as people tried to calm me down.
"Get a doctor! Save my baby! Why aren't you doing anything?!" I shrieked urgently. My husband grabbed the baby from me and was trying to calm me down. But I stood in the street hysterical as passersby stopped to try to help figure out what was going on.
It turns out that when my daughter had been upset about whatever it was, she had lost her footing and fallen hard on her tailbone right onto our ancient stone sidewalk, which was apparently a much harsher fall than I had realized, having not seen it myself. Others understood that she had the wind knocked right out of her and would be fine. As soon as my husband took her from me, she came to and started crying – a good sign.
Within a moment or two, a neighbor saw the situation, quickly re-assuring us that she had only fainted, as his daughters unfortunately have a tendency of doing quite often, and there was nothing to be alarmed about. Apparently, when she had fallen hard, she was a bit shocked and couldn't catch her breath – hence the not breathing and fainting.
So, thank God, this near-death experience was a fake-out. But it made me realize that it just as easily could not have been, God forbid. When she went limp, not-breathing and blue, I felt like someone pulled this mighty off-lever of life, one like you might see controlling a factory floor. In one split second, for no reason, my baby's life was just being shut down and there was nothing I could do about it. So I started screaming. All I could think was, We need to get her breathing again, and we only have a few seconds to do it! Not being in the middle of an emergency room surrounded by a team of doctors with all the right equipment, I felt like a traveler in the desert knocked to the sandy ground from thirst, with no water and no salvation in sight.
If it was my last day, how would I have used it?
From this, I learned two things. One: we cannot wait for the off-lever to be pulled. I did a Google search to see how many seconds are in an average human life. 2,524,608,000 seconds (the equivalent of 80 years, if we're lucky). Two and a half billion seconds and how many of them do we really use? In how many of them are we really grateful that we're alive? That we have loved ones? That I even have a precious little two-year-old baby girl? Life is just too short. We do not have the luxury of time.
We have to live to the fullest today. I live in Israel. I might be in more danger living here than if I lived in Germany in 1939. A nuclear Iran could wipe me off the map, and you know what? The day before would be a normal day, just like today.
If it was my last day, how would I have used it?
Why are we wasting so much of our lives?
Enough pettiness! Enough complaining! Enough 'if-onlys’! Every second is a gift to be treasured, experienced, and elevated to a higher purpose.
The Jewish understanding of God is not just that He made the world and left it to run by itself. God is not only Creator, but also Sustainer and Supervisor. That means for every second I have with my precious daughter, not only is He not pulling the off-lever, but He is pushing the on-lever!
We don’t need to wait for death and doom to loom over us before we wake up and see how good were “the good ol' days.” Let’s live them now. No matter what hardship or challenge we confront, we are alive – experiencing and cherishing life’s infinite good.
In the merit of the full recovery of my father, David Yaakov ben Golda