A Jewish magazine for special-needs families published a piece of mine the summer before I left for seminary. It was one of the best essays I've ever written. I was so proud that I had finally been published in a real magazine. I brought a copy of the publication with me to Israel to show off to my relatives there. Everyone I spoke to said it was amazing, and I basked in the glory of "fame."
My essay was similar to what Staying Afloat said about her family Chanukah party. I had spent time with people in situations that are a lot worse than anything my family went through with my sister, and it taught me to appreciate how lucky we are that she isn't in a worse condition. One family I wrote about read my article and were, understandably, quite upset at what I had written about them. I hadn't changed the details enough for them to go unrecognized, and I was too objective – too shocked by the oddities of their child – to do them justice.
They emailed my parents – a harsh letter, but so true – right before Succos. My parents didn't tell me about it until Erev Succos (the day before the holiday begins). It totally threw me – it burst the happy, proud bubble that I had been in because of my accomplishment as a writer. I went from showing my article to everyone I met to almost throwing out all my copies of it. I cried almost the entire yom tov (holiday). The worst part was being away from home and not being able to call them – or do anything – to apologize. I felt that Hashem was punishing me – it had just been the most inspiring Yom Kippur in my life, and this is what followed?? I couldn't even do T'shuva for it until after Hoshana Rabba. [Note: one teacher I spoke to at this time said it was exactly the opposite – Hashem was showing me that I had a sin that I needed to take care of before it was too late.] It was an awful time.
I wrote the family an apology letter (I agonized over it for weeks) and sent it express mail (cost a fortune, but was worth it). Then I put it out of my mind. There was nothing more I could do except internalize the message – be careful what you write and how you write it (see my message at the top of the blog) and daven (pray).
Time passed. Every so often I'd wonder if they had gotten my letter and what their reaction was to it. But I'd never do anything about it. I never said anything, just kept the worry inside.
On one night of Chanukah, I was sitting on my bed talking to some of my roommate's friends. Though I was friendly with them, I hadn't had anything to do with them Succos time during the fallout of my article. For some reason, I told them all about it, though I hadn't said a word about it since I sent the apology. As I was finishing, a different girl came up to my room to deliver the mail. My family does not do letters – I can count on one hand the number of letters I've received from my parents in all the summers and other times that I've been away from home. So I was very surprised when my friend said she had a letter for me.
When I looked at the return address, the blood literally drained from my face. It was from the people that I had hurt with my article. My roommate, Leah, noticed my reaction, but didn't know what had happened. I told her who it was from, and she understood. I was so scared to open it, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't face the pain that I was sure the letter contained. I didn't hold out any hope that they had forgiven me, because I would never have forgiven someone who wrote such a thing about my sister. All of us in the room said a kapitel (chapter) of tehillim, and then Leah opened the letter for me.
There was silence as we waited to see what the verdict was.
And then Leah smiled. She showed me the holiday card that was in the envelope – just a simple thing with a picture of the kids I had hurt. And I started to cry. Not tears of pain like I had shed on Succos. Tears of joy and thankfulness that they had forgiven me. I cried for over two hours. I'm crying now as I remember it.
It was a miracle. There is no way that they would have forgiven me in the normal run of the world. I had hurt them too much.
Maybe they saw the sincerity in my apology letter.
Maybe they're just amazing people.
But I think it was a nes. A true Chanukah miracle just for me.