Sacred Space Marriage

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An Attitude of Gratitude – Living a “Modah Ani” Life

The room was dark, except for a few candles.  Wearing her winter coat indoors, hands cupping hot soup brought in from a friend, she sat on her mourner’s stool.  That’s how you sit shiva during Hurricane Sandy, when you’ve lost your electricity, heat, the normal amenities of life, and your dad.

The funeral was in NY, hours before the main outrage of the storm, allowing my friend to get out and get back to PA.  “Gesturing around her, she laughed, “Dad would have liked this – the drama of it all,” and she recounted one of her father’s exploits in his old age, where he parachuted out of a plane – and had a heart attack on the way down.

At age, 60, he walked away from the garment industry where he had worked for almost 40 years and went back to graduate school, becoming a licensed social worker at age 63.  He then went on to have a practice counseling addicts, until his early 80’s.  He worked up until a month before his death, dragging his oxygen tank with him wherever he went.  His favorite toy was a horn he kept by his feet during his therapy sessions and when a client was in denial and blame mode, he would surreptitiously reach down and then suddenly blast the horn.  The therapy technique is called “pattern interrupt” which stands for “cut it out!”  When you’re on oxygen, and routinely on dialysis, you get that life is too short for the persistent avoidance of truth.

But some days were rough, really rough, and when my friend would call her dad, sometime in the hospital, or in bed recovering from the latest round of dialysis, and she would ask, “How are you feeling, dad?”, he would always answer, “Fannnn-tastic!!!!  So what’s going on with you?  Tell me something good, tell me something new, what’s making your world rock today, sweetheart?”

The weekly Torah portion that we read right after the hurricane was “Vayeira”, about the angels visiting Abraham and Sarah with the message that they would have a son, and the Torah describes Abraham and Sarah as being “well on in years”.  The Zohar comments that “each day in a person’s life carries its own challenges and mission.  What is to be accomplished today cannot be postponed to tomorrow, because tomorrow has its own set of things to do.”  For Sarah and Abraham, being “well on in years” meant that they fully used their days, and that they tapped into their life’s mission on a day-by-day basis.

By the time he died, my friend’s father’s body had completely wasted away; there was nothing physically left of him.   He squandered nothing – not a day, not an hour, not even his muscles and sinews.  When he was strong and vigorous, he lived larger than life.  Ill and incapacitated, he lived as large as he could under the circumstances, because that was his mission then – to beam happiness when others would be bitter.

I say the prayer which begins “modah ani” (“I gratefully thank You”) every morning when I wake up, thanking G-d for a new day of life.  Sometimes I’m really tuned in to the words, but often I am not.  The idea is to wake up with an “attitude of gratitude”.  I see it differently now.  The point is not to have a “modah ani” moment, or a “modah ani” morning, but to create a “modah ani” day, and hopefully, live a “modah ani” life.  Yes, that’s it – a “modah ani” life.  So  let it be said of us at the end of our days, that we were “well on in years”, that we weathered our storms, and that we had a life that was absolutely “Fannn-tastic!!!!!”

Hanna Perlberger, J.D., B.C.C.


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6 thoughts on “An Attitude of Gratitude – Living a “Modah Ani” Life

  1. Pingback: Living a “Modah Ani” Life « Sacred Space Marriage

  2. FANNNNN TASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His magnificent legacy will live on through your magnificent capture of my precious Father who, yes was larger than life itself. Even his yartzheit candle burned for 10 days, not 7, just like his internal light, always above and beyond…. It is a choice we can ALL make–living a Modah Ani Life says it all……grateful for waking every day, touching souls, living with passion and vitality……thank you Hanna, for sharing how you were touched by my Father, and giving us all this gift of writing about him and his qualities to touch others.

  3. shalom to my dear friend,
    From your dear friend in the holy land where I will live out my life. Not much can rock me lately or give me goosebumps every paragraph and you have managed to do that with your amazingly talented writing and ability to capture the truth and the moment.
    Kolo hakovod to you for advancing in your career to help others grow and learn.
    Thank you for sharing about Andrea’s father whom I did not have the priveledge of knowing.
    Being very close to Andrea for so many years, I know now why she is such a Tzedeka. It is not easy being a daughter and growing with fathers and then as we become parents and wives, we lose our fathers. Thank G-d for Torah which teaches us so much as well as Abraham and Sarah.
    Do you remember when I asked you about your father when you came to my dad’s shiva. I was shivering in a different way than Andrea on her cold rainy day.
    You had so openly shared about him and it was so helpful to me and I am sure your writing has helped Andrea with her loss.
    In honor of our fathers in Heaven and in honor of Hashem who gives us the opportunity to say Modi Ani everyday to Life.

  4. How extraordinary and beautiful to write about this awesome man and at the same time give so much comfort to his loving daughter. And something else: a lesson for all of us to live “a modeh ani life.” I will remember the man, the daughter and the message with awe and inspiration. Thank you, Hanna.

  5. Bracha Hollander-Goldfein on said:

    This is a beautiful article with an important message and a role model who lived the message. When Andrea told me about her father during Shiva I was deeply moved. My focus, as a therapist, adds the dimension of relationship. What I heard in addition to her father’s never ending commitment to live life to the fullest, is that the generations of the family are close – that her children were close to him and he with them – in spite of differences. This kind of loving connection creates the foundation for ongoing loving connections which sustains the generations to come.
    Thank you sharing about his life and therefore about yours.

  6. rick katz on said:

    I am Barbara’s first cousin and I can still remember the day she told me about the man who she would marry. I was with Marvin in North Carolina, in NYC, on a sailboat and he was always full of humor, curiosity, energy and good will. Like Picasso, he achieved much late in life.

    Rick Katz

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