One Rabbi’s Story

Years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wrote the book in response to the illness and eventual death of his son Aaron, who suffered with a rare disease called progeria, which means rapid aging. Aaron never grew beyond three feet tall, had no hair on his head or body, looked like a little old man while he was still a child, and he died in his teens. It was an agonizing experience for the whole family, and Kushner doesn’t sugar coat it. He is brutally honest about the anger, frustration, grief and depression. And yet, even in that kind of suffering, Rabbi Kushner learned that God gives his children the strength to cope with whatever life brings.

For the Kushner family, that strength came in two forms. First, it came through people. God sustained the Kushner family throughout Aaron’s illness by people who cared for them. Like the man who made Aaron a scaled-down tennis racquet suitable to his size. Or the friend who gave him a baseball autographed by the entire Red Sox team. And by the children who overlooked Aaron’s appearance and physical limitations and played stickball with him in the backyard. Kushner said this kind of caring was God’s way of telling his family that they were not alone, not cast off. God’s strength to cope usually came through human instruments.

But the strength to cope also came directly from God. Kushner speaks often about God’s gifts of courage, strength and hope. When Kushner reached the limits of his own resources, he found reinforcement from a source beyond himself. God and other people were there for him. And through that strength, he found the resiliency to go on living. Although God did not protect the Kushner family from suffering, God gave them the strength to cope with their tragedy with courage, hope and dignity. God enabled them to live fully, bravely, meaningfully and even joyfully in a less than perfect world. The closing line of Rabbi Kushner’s book says: “Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow.”