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What Does It Mean to Be "Blessed?"

What Does It Mean to Be "Blessed?"

Man standing at the end of a pier during sunset

They weren’t the best pancakes I’d ever had, but they were very good. So were the scrambled eggs and other sides in the breakfast meal that the menu called “A Little Bit of Everything.” My wife had an omelet. Our son had waffles. The orange juice was fresh and expensive. As we were leaving the diner, I said to my wife, “The food here is really good,” to which she replied, “We’re very blessed.”

“Excuse me,” I said. “We’re blessed to have a good meal?”

 “What are you talking about?” she said.

“I said we had a good meal, and you said we are blessed, which I interpret to mean as we are blessed to have a good meal.”

“I never said that,” she pronounced.

“Yeah, you did.”

Being blessed is an interesting construct. When looking at my life, I feel I’ve been uniquely blessed. The house above my head is mine, and to celebrate my good fortune in home ownership, I recently bought another. If you saw me in my nice suit driving my nice car on the way to my nice job, you too might look at me and think, “That man is blessed.”

At one level, you would be correct. At another level, not so much.

Someone once told me that a wedding band, at least a Jewish wedding band, must be a solid band of gold. My wedding band had a hole in it, one made for a small diamond from a cocktail ring that my grandmother gave to my mother and my mother gave to me. (The rest of the ring, including the large diamond at its center, created a new engagement ring for my future wife.) Throughout the years, I have often wondered if the hole in my ring has been the cause of my sorrows.

The honeymoon in Italy was wonderful. In Florence, we climbed to the Duomo. In Venice, we walked along the Grand Canal. In Rome, we dined besides the Spanish Steps. Italy was the door to a year of pure happiness, unencumbered by the anguish life would throw us.

Then my wife got pregnant and sadly, the pregnancy was ectopic. It floated away into nothingness, through the hole in the ring on my finger. Her next five pregnancies all ended in miscarriage. Along the way, I needed surgery to make better sperm, all the while my wife was injected with hormones to make extra eggs. We became mission-driven adults burdened by the weight of procreation.

Finally, after five years of marriage and endless heartache, our first son was born. Five years later, our third and final son joined the family.

Were we blessed?

Our first son, now 28, is a recovering heroin addict. Beyond the miracle of his birth and the absolute joy that followed, his addiction placed a burden, both emotional and financial, on the family. Though our careers progressed along the unfettered trail of success, we often felt more punished than blessed as we made our way through police, courts, boarding schools, wilderness programs, jails, and rehabs. Our first son is fine today; tomorrow could be different. We’re OK, too, although his past relapses have pulled us into alarming and emotionally draining episodes.

Our second son had developmental delays that carried with them the fears all parents of children with disabilities endure. Now 25, he has found a niche in life that brings him recognition I never could have imagined for this sweet boy who sang before he could talk.

We never worried about son number three. Our only concern for him was the impact that living with an unpredictable eldest brother might have on his psyche. Today, he is a young man who will do anything to avoid conflict. Indeed, my two younger sons lead Humpty Dumpty lives, carrying with them the anxiety of the prodigal son’s return.

What else? My wife developed breast cancer and lived. My father developed dementia and died. My mother has dementia and cannot care for herself.

I am 61, fit, cheerful, achy when I rise, happy when I nap, and silly when I drink. I worry about money and my children. I am surrounded by the love of family, yet cautious that love can turn into fury, jobs end abruptly, and good health is fleeting.

Am I blessed? My journey has not been smooth, nor is it over. Like a hearty breakfast, I’ve had more than my share of a little bit of everything. So, sure, call me blessed – but let us all recognize that blessings are not free. They’re fragile like eggs, and they’re expensive like orange juice.

Perhaps blessings are the perfect omelet: They bring us warmth as we enjoy them, and they’re consumed far too quickly – yet, thankfully, we know that someday, we might delight in them again.

Richard Reiss has written extensively about creating a family through adoption, and the joys and challenges of being adoptive parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, ADDitude Magazine, Perigee Journal, Serving House Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The Literary Review, and Psychotherapy Networker. He is the author of Desperate Love:  A Father’s Memoir, published by Serving House Books. Richard and his wife, Paula Kaplan-Reiss, and family, are members of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, N.J.

Richard Reiss
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