In sixth grade, I had a Hebrew school teacher, Cheryl, and anyone from my temple would tell you she was a little odd. (To be clear, she was, but I sounded really, really good at my bat mitzvah, so whatever it was must’ve worked.) But amid the barely-ordered madness that was her class, there was one thing she taught us that I’ve always really liked.
There’s this prayer in the middle of the Amidah called "Modim." The Amidah is a series of prayers asking for blessings that is usually said at least once in both regular weekday and Shabbat services, as well as most holiday services. Modim is a prayer of thanksgiving meant to begin concluding a section of the service when the prayers are mainly asking God for various blessings.
You don’t say it out loud (unless you’re the Resident Loud Guy at your shul), and so my friends and I hadn’t devoted much time to studying it — it wasn’t part of the service we’d have to lead for our b’nai mitzvot, and since there was no threat of messing it up in front of everyone we knew, we felt it wasn’t worth our time.
Cheryl had a different idea, with one line in the middle of "Modim" that she wanted us to think about.
"V’al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu": for Your miracles that are with us every day.
There were a lot of things about Hebrew school — having to miss soccer practice, chanting in Hebrew in front of my friends or the fact that it bored me out of my mind — that I didn’t particularly like, but that one thing has stuck with me: the concept of everyday miracles.
Kind of nice, isn’t it? The idea that there are these incredible little moments happening every single day, if you just look for them. Over the years, I’ve tried to notice those little miracles, and as Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve come to a conclusion: Screw flowers and chocolates. Those everyday miracles are as much about love as any big gesture.
Take my freshman year, for example. I was crying in the first-floor bathrooms of Mason Hall, panicking on the phone with my dad about what a hard time I was having in Econ 101.
After a few minutes, a hand snaked under the door to the stall I was hiding in. Attached to it were a bottle of water and a note, reading:
“I know you’re really upset, but I promise it isn’t as bad as it seems right now. And even if it is that bad, it’s only one class. I calculated it out, and it (your final grade) will be less than 8% of your final GPA. You can totally bring it back up. I hope this helps :)”
I don’t know who that girl was. I never actually spoke to her, never saw her face. And by the time I’d finished reading the note, she was gone. But this I believe: For that one moment on a Tuesday morning, when I needed it most, that girl showed me a more powerful love than the kind expressed with cheesy romantic gestures.
That was not a good moment for me, if the “crying in the Mason Hall bathrooms” didn’t already give that away. That’s why that tiny gesture was so meaningful to me: When pretty much all I could see was bad, that girl reminded me how much good is out there, too.
To me, that’s love: The reassurance that the good things win out sometimes, too.
We’ve got this overly romanticized ideal of love: rose petals, candlelight, grand gestures and getting on airplanes. Ever since learning about that passage in Hebrew school, I’ve never thought that love had to be like that, and I never even really wanted it to be. For me, those little miracles are so much more beautiful.
There’s so much meaning in the silence of FaceTime calls with my younger sister when we’ve run out of things to say but don’t want to hang up (the we’re-both-at-college equivalent of going into her room for no reason at all). There’s so much love as my dad pulls my mom up to dance every time “Night and Day” plays, even when it’s just dinner on a random Tuesday night. I love moments like that.
I wanted to see what other people’s experiences with everyday miracles looked like, so I borrowed an idea from a colleague and ran a poll on my Instagram stories, asking the people who follow me what little miracles they’ve noticed. Turns out, I’m not the only one paying attention. Here are some of the responses people sent in:
“Watching a couple pick out a Valentine’s Day gift for their child.”
“Celebrating little victories with my roommates in our kitchen.”
“My roommates planned a dinner for my anniversary of being cancer-free.”
Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m something of a cynic. I roll my eyes at mushy couples’ Instagram posts, I make sarcastic remarks during rom-coms (sorry, roommates) and I’m rarely impressed with whatever “adorable” thing someone’s boyfriend has just done (seriously, the bar is on the floor).
Still, seeing those responses to my Instagram poll, even my inner Rosa Diaz couldn’t help but grin. When so much of my day makes me anxious, tired, annoyed and/or stressed, those little reminders to appreciate the good things every day make such a big difference.
The idea of valuing everyday miracles reminds me of that TikTok “romanticize your life” trend. We have to start romanticizing these little acts of love we’re showing each other in these traditionally overlooked gestures. We have to try to live our lives in a way that lets us notice and appreciate our everyday miracles.
Ross Gay, an author and professor of English at Indiana University, wrote a book, “The Book of Delights: Essays,” on doing just that. He sums up the intention behind appreciating our everyday miracles well.
“I have really been thinking that joy is the moments — for me, the moments when my alienation from people — but not just people, from the whole thing. It goes away. And it shrinks,” Gay said. “If it was a visual thing, everything becomes luminous. And I love that mycelium, forest metaphor, that there’s this thing connecting us. And among the things of that thing connecting us is that we have this common experience — many common experiences, but a really foundational one is that we are not here forever.”
I love that idea, that there’s joy in those little glowing moments when everything else goes away, and love in those perfect snapshots that I hope I remember when I’m old and sad.
It can show up in so many different ways: finding a Snoopy card from grandpa in the mail at summer camp; singing in the car with friends, windows down; leaping into my big’s arms at a crowded pre-COVID welcome week tailgate, ecstatic to be reunited after a summer apart, not caring how basic we looked or sounded; laughing with high school friends, squished into the corner booth of our favorite hometown haunt.
These are my little delights, my everyday miracles.