We had a fire when I was five years old, and I started it.
I remember I wasn’t feeling well that day, and I was at home in my nightgown in the basement. My older brother put on a tape for me to listen to for entertainment. My father who worked the night shift was resting, and my mother who wasn’t feeling well, was also resting.
The house was quiet As I was listening to my story tape my eye fell on this little beaded lantern we had. It was so unique that I was entranced with it. I asked my brother to light it. He lit it for me and went back upstairs. I was alone, staring at the little flame and the pack of matches that he left behind. Something in me wanted ro give it a try. So I blew out the flame and lit my own match. The lantern was high on the shelf and I couldn’t quite make it. It fell down.
I’ll never know how it actually happened but in a matter of moments, the whole basement was in flames.
I ran upstairs and to our cleaning lady Ruby, and she told my sister to wake up my parents. It was snowing outside, and Ruby stuck my little feet into my mother’s big tall boots and sent me out of the house.
There were 9 of us kids and my parents were used to emergencies. There was always an emergency. So when my sister came yelling about a fire, my father said, “There’s always a fire in the oven” and continued to rest.My mother too was only mildly alarmed. Finally, my sister convinced them it was serious, and they got out of the house across the street to a neighbor’s house and at last, someone called the fire department.
I was alone this whole time. Terrified that I would get into trouble, I clunked through the snow in my boots and hid in a neighbor’s garage. By the time I made it across the street somehow to be with my family, flames were coming out of our windows. The basement and first floor were ruined.
Our family huddled together.. It was right before Passover, and we had no home. We had to start all over. The community rallied around us to provide for us and help us get on our feet.
Nobody asked me if I started that fire. Nobody got me in trouble. One of my siblings jokingly told me there was a newspaper article that little Rivka Malka had started the fire. I held this in my heart with icy fear for years.
Our family recovered. We spent three months in someone else’s house. Insurance covered everything. My parents were happy we got new furniture. Everyone moved on, and the fire became a thing of the past. For everyone but me. I held onto this guilt and shame that I didn’t have words for, but that manifested as a feeling I couldn’t shake. I just knew, “I am a bad little girl. I burned my house down.”
It could be that I didn’t even start the fire, I found out as I spoke this over with my mother years later. It could have been an electrical fire that I just associated with the lantern. We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. I carried the burden of starting the fire for decades, and it took a long time to uncover that feeling and speak my pain of the shame that I carried.
That shame became a wedge of hidden essence in almost all of my relationships and especially in my relationship with G-d.
When I began to realize how deeply entrenched I was in my negative beliefs, I began a journey of authenticity. First to admit to the workings of my heart and then to confront my beliefs about myself head-on, again and again. I didn’t do this alone. G-d guided me to experiences where I would fall again and again into my old patterns. With each of these relationships, I confronted myself again. The healing was a group effort. G-d, myself, my loved ones, and the various loving mentors and coaches He sent my way.
With sweat and tears and layers and seemingly endless mistakes, I recovered from my low self-worth and began functioning from the place of my intrinsic goodness and value.
I was challenged again and again in codependence and pain and with each challenge, more of my value was clarified. I am still amazed at the depths and lengths that Hashem went through to bring me to this place. And its ever-evolving. The process just continues. The journey to self-love is gorgeous and hard-earned.
What is your story? Something happened to you, because something always happens because life happens. That’s how it goes.
Then comes the stories that we create around what happened. So many pains and shames and fears and beliefs branch out from those early beliefs. They take hold as if they are the truth. But they’re not.
The truth is that we long to be set free.
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