As I push the stroller along the bumpy paved path of the local park, I feel rare sunlight on my face after a long winter. The season seems to be hinting at changing, while the cold breeze reminds me it’s not spring just yet. I needed to go outside, to see the sun today. It was a gray and isolating winter, as I stayed home for many days with my beautiful new baby. He had been born premature in November, and the five weeks that he spent in the hospital were one of the darkest times of my life. Though my son’s health always progressed well throughout that period, we were in limbo. Not having him at home was almost impossible to comprehend or accept. When it was over, I took a photo of my son’s first moment of sunlight as we exited the hospital. He sat with his eyes gently closed as the ray of sunlight spread across his face. He was cozily tucked in the brand new car seat that had been stationed in a corner of the living room till the day we could finally use it. To say that I felt happy would be an understatement, but it’s also more complicated than that.
As the holiday of Purim rolls around, I have been thinking about happiness. On Purim we are commanded to be happy, to have fun, to act silly. Yet it’s a strange thing to command, not unlike the commandment to love God. How can you dictate emotion? During the time after my son came home I felt a range of emotions that changed day to day, moment to moment: relief, joy, fear, disappointment. I struggled with that last feeling: wasn’t I supposed to be happy? And yet disappointment arrived alongside my utter joy at having my son finally by my side. I was weary of what we had been through. I was shaken by the birth experience, which I never had time to process. Yes, I was eternally grateful for the gift of my son and for my own survival of a traumatic birth. But joy and gratitude had their shadows. And I felt guilty for this mix of emotions.
Four months later, on this sunny day in the park, the dark winter seems like a hazy dream. I did not try to pretend that my son’s homecoming was perfect: at the time, I was still broken, and I have allowed myself to heal at my own pace. These days, I wake up every morning bleary eyed and exhausted from nighttime feedings, but the smile on my son’s face fills me with the kind of joy that energizes my day. It is a profound happiness that surprises me and breaks my heart over and over again. I am able to take a moment and enjoy that sunlight on my face because the happiness I now feel has been earned.
Purim reminds us to search for happiness in an upside down world. It’s a holiday of opposites, of turning things on their heads. The birth experience I had was nothing like what I’d expected. I’ve fully come into my joy, and I’m grateful it was here waiting on the other side. Happiness is often more complex than it seems. But when you feel it you know it’s the real thing, whether it comes easily or not, whether at the appointed season or in your own time.
Hila Ratzabi is the Editorial Associate of Ritualwell.