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The Woman in the Park

The Woman in the Park

With all my flaws, am I worthy of love?


My walk home from synagogue on a recent Saturday morning shook the entire way I look at life.

The day was beautiful, and instead of taking my kids straight home, we stopped to play in a park. As children ran around, laughing and squealing, I noticed a woman about my age sitting on a swing. We caught each other’s eyes for a moment and smiled, and then I looked away, a little embarrassed. The woman seemed to be actually playing on the swing.

She came over and stood near me. We smiled at each other awkwardly and she broke the silence. Nodding at my dressy outfit, she asked if I’d been in synagogue. When I answered yes, she thought for a moment. It seemed she was fighting to hold back tears.

“I’m Jewish too,” she mused.

“Great!” I replied, a little too enthusiastically. The woman seemed different, too child-like and slightly off-kiltered. She seemed to have something more she wanted to say, and I cast around for something to draw her out. “Do you go to synagogue too?” I asked.

“I don’t think people in synagogue would want someone like me.”

That did it. “No,” she replied, and started to cry softly. “I don’t think people in synagogue would want someone like me.”

Oy. I glanced around the park, but there was no one else nearby to help me comfort my new acquaintance. Awkwardly, I moved closer to her. I patted her on the back and, injecting a note of jollity that I didn’t really feel into my voice, said “Of course people would want you to be there! Everyone would be so happy if you came! Why don’t you?”

Instead of answering, she just cried harder. After a while, she told me about herself. She had some developmental challenges and was rather unhappy. “I don’t think even God wants me,” she sniffed.

Oy. Oy. Oy. I looked around the park again, wishing with all my heart that a great rabbi or two would suddenly stroll by and explain that God does want her, that she is beautiful and important and special. That the Torah teaches that every person is created in the image of God, that we reflect an aspect of His holiness. Each of us is a universe in ourselves, containing untold wonders.

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I put my arms around her and held her close. Using simple words, I tried my best to convey these thoughts. For a long while we embraced. “Of course God loves you,” I murmured over and over again, “God loves you so much.”

She stopped crying and we lapsed into a comforting silence.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Why don’t you come to synagogue next week? We can sit next to each other.”

Instantly, her face fell. “I don’t have any nice clothes,” she said, gesturing to her casual outfit.

“That doesn’t matter at all!” I said, trying to be chipper, but the look on her face said she saw right through me.

Just then, more people from synagogue strolled into the park all dressed up and festive. “Come meet my new friend!” I cried, and managed the introductions. Soon enough, the woman was deep in conversation with other people, who all echoed what I had said: We would all be thrilled to see her in shul, no matter what she’s wearing.

We left the park that day feeling pretty good about ourselves. It was only later that it hit me: Aren’t we all like that woman in the park sometimes? Wondering if we are worthy of anyone loving us? Wondering if other people will accept us? Wondering if even God likes us?

I hear the doubt all the time. “I have so much baggage.” “I’m damaged goods.” “I hate the way I look.” I’ve had several friends tell me over the years that they hated – actually hated – themselves for being overweight. People who say they aren’t bright, are “over the hill,” not spiritual, who feel they have nothing to give.

We cloak our self-doubt in silence. We certainly don’t cry on strangers’ shoulders in public.

We may be more sophisticated than the woman in the park. We cloak our self-doubt, even our despair, in silence. We say nothing to others about the way we’re feeling. We certainly don’t cry on strangers’ shoulders in public.

Yet what if we did voice our doubts, our questions, our raw need? What if we reached out to other people, as that brave woman did? What if we allowed ourselves to think for a moment about our essential holiness, that we are created in the image of the Divine? That we are part of a wider community? That we might, despite our flaws, still be loved?

I don’t know if my new friend will actually make it to synagogue, but I hope she does. I’d like to thank her for making me realize anew that the words I whispered to her in comfort are true for all of us. Every person is unique, important and beloved. Each one of us is a crucial member of the Jewish people. Her local community is waiting to embrace her with open arms, with love and joy, as is the Almighty. And that’s true for all of us.

November 6, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 25

(19) Anonymous, April 20, 2015 1:50 AM

I am the woman in the park

I have spent the better part of my day in tears trying to figure out how to answer you. Because I am the woman you wrote about. You gave no thought to how I would feel if I recognize myself as the object of your pity; nor did you concern yourself with the fact that others might read what you’ve written and know it was me you wrote about. I’ve never met Yvette Miller but I live the pain the woman she met lives every day.
Please understand the kind of loneliness that leads to the conversation in the park comes from a place of desperation and a deep need not to feel/be alone anymore. Of the women who responded only Diana seems to realize you were talking to someone in trouble. The kind wishes of the women who have responded are both wonderful and meaningless all at once. Wonderful because there's the instant feeling of belonging. Meaningless because they don't change the fact that I spend the majority of my time alone. If you have the time and energy to offer friendship please do, but if you don't please leave me alone. I don't want to be your good deed. What I need is somewhere to belong and the realization that I’m your mitzvah could be enough to drive me over the edge. Your not the first person to use me for your own gain just the most recent.

(18) Rivky, November 29, 2011 8:03 PM


I am just so blown away by this incredible people that BH i am a part of! To Chasha and Diana, those really beautiful and inspiring comments, as is the rest of them. I am just so thankful to be a part of this unified people who so seriously care about the details of another Jew life and making sure they feel comfortable in Shul even offering to donate your clothing. May this ahavas yisroel just grow stronger and stronger and may we see mashiach very soon.

(17) SHARON S, November 10, 2011 8:18 AM

You are an angel. G-d bless you.

(16) Chasha, November 10, 2011 6:45 AM

True Chesed Would Be to Get her Shabbas Clothes

B"H This is a beautiful story but your new friend needs Shabbas clothes to feel comfortable at shul. If you see her again it would be a true blessing to give her Shabbas clothes. I am sure she would appreciate something whether new or used. Doing this with her could be fun and could further ease her heart. Warmly Chasha

Diana, November 10, 2011 3:54 PM

I'll give her my clothes

I have lost some weight over the summer and put away a lot of nice clothes. I did not donate them to charities, worrying that I may gain weight back over the winter, so they are all sitting in the guest room closet. I guess this is a beshert - I'll give her my last year clothes and will cut off the path back to my old overweight self.

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