I comfortably sat on the train that had just left Long Beach, engaging in my deep breathing exercises. It was Mother’s Day, and I was on my way to meet my adult son in midtown Manhattan with a kosher bagged lunch for both of us in tow. My son had purchased tickets to see the Broadway play “Carousel,” a show he had played a part in while in school and thus had special meaning to us. As my son grew into his adult years, our relationship had grown more loving, and we approached one another with greater understanding, concern and respect.

Still,I occasionally felt a slight residue of negativity having divorced his dad when my son was 12, we did undergo a difficult period, and to this day, I still have a residue of guilt ... despite my deep breaths.

My eyes closed and focused within, I noticed myself in the midst of a family conversation. As people settled in next to and across from me, I kept my eyes closed and continued my breathing exercises. Soon, with the overlay of laughter and continual chatter of a young man, I opened my eyes, largely out of curiosity.

Sitting next to me was a heavy, man-shaped boy gazing straight ahead. Across him sat a pleasant-looking woman, with a younger boy sporting a Mohawk haircut and animatedly speaking about his junior high school theater and art activities. His artsy, out-of-the box way reminded me a bit of my son and drew me in further. But what most caught my attention was the tone and concern with which both the woman and the younger boy spoke to the older boy.

“Does your foot still hurt, Steve?” the boy asked, his head slightly cocked, as he gently patted the older boy on the knee.

“Tell me if there’s any problem, honey,” the mom said, and this time, the older boy nodded in assent.

It would be several years before I taught students on the autism spectrum, though it had become clear that the older boys’ inertness signaled some type of challenge. To prevent him from feeling uncomfortable, I turned my gaze to the smiling woman, who was continuously laughing at her younger son’s theatrics.

“I hope they didn’t interrupt your sleep,” said the mother, with only a slight expression of concern.

“Not at all,” I replied. We introduced ourselves and wished one another a happy Mother’s Day. Then the woman, Anna, introduced me to her two sons and told me just how proud she was of each.

Without missing a beat, the younger brother leaned towards his older brother, and using a gentle, encouraging voice asked him to recite his list of butterflies. The older boy’s face was mostly affectless, but as he recited the list of butterflies, he became a bit more animated. The younger boy asked him where each butterfly can be found, and the older boy didn’t hesitate to answer. By the end of his recitation, the older brother was smiling ...

“Wow! That’s so great,” the younger said encouragingly and then turned to me. “When he’s interested in something, he can tell you everything anyone would want to know about it.”

“You’re terrific, honey,” the mother said, her smile now spreading from ear to ear. I, too, happily added a stranger’s share of accolades.

We continued talking. As it turned out, the family was also from Long Beach, and the mother, who worked full-time while raising her two sons, had also been divorced. We spoke about the school system, our work, and the challenges and rewards of mothering. Compared to the rewards, the challenges for this woman were simply a blip on the screen.

As we exited the train, Anna—my fellow passenger through life—and I gave each other a warm hug. How could I not hug a woman who had taught me the importance of packing a smile and leaving the baggage behind?

By the time we reached the landing, there was still more to say.

“Are you a grandmother?” Anna asked me.

G‑d willing, that will happen someday. In time, I’d especially love to have a little granddaughter. But in the long run, just having a grandchild would be amazing.”

I was about to add “what matters most is health,” but seeing Anna lovingly looking at both sons, I was reminded that what matters most is attitude.

Anna asked me: “Are you a grandmother?”That was several years before the coronovirus lifted its ugly head, but I still try to maintain a positive attitude. I’ve since found out that Anna encapsulated a belief in Judaism expressed by Rabbi Akiva, Kol man d’avid Rachmana l’tav avid, which in Aramaic (the language spoken by the Jewish people at that time) meant: “All that the Merciful One does, He does for good.”

We believe that even serious challenges, including those associated with COVID-19, which appear to offer no apparent good are for a good purpose, known only to G‑d. These challenges, too, will lead to good—or at least allow us the means to create good from them. Many today are digging deeply, discovering just how capable they are of courageous, altruistic and even heroic behaviors: hallmarks of the most challenging times.

I still have imprinted on my mind that day, several years ago, Anna waving goodbye, cheerfully flanked by each son. I remember returning the wave and then walking towards Broadway, a smile broadly spread on my face and a lighter lilt to my step.