Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Season of Light

One of my greatest teachers has been Rachel Naomi Remen. I have never met this woman, but her words have deeply influenced me over the past two years. She is a doctor who counsels terminally ill patients, and she has written two books about her experiences. Her stories of healing, life, and spirit make me cry and laugh and marvel, and they touch a place deep inside of me. They make me want to be a better person and a fuller human being.

Rachel's grandfather was a rabbi, and though he died when she was only seven he touched her life profoundly. In "My Grandfather's Blessings" Rachel includes a story about Hannukah. Now, I am not a religious person, and as a non-Jew I don't know much about Hannukah, or really any of the Jewish holidays. I know the basic story about the Maccabees, but that's about it. However, Rachel's story about Hannukah touched me and made me understand a little bit what it's all about, so I'd like to share it with you.

At the time of this story Rachel is a little girl just learning about Hannukah. Night after night she and her grandfather light the candles together and watch as they dispel the darkness of Winter. On the final night, the seven glowing candles are so beautiful that they make Rachel ache. Her grandfather then says this:

"The story of Hannukah says that God's light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so. That is one of the miracles of the light. But there is more. There is a place in everyone that can carry the light...When God says 'Let There be Light,' he is speaking to us personally. He is telling us what is possible, how we might choose to live. But one candle does not do much in the darkness. God has not only given us the chance to carry the light, he has made it possible for us to kindle and strengthen the light in one another, passing the light along. This is the way that God's light will shine forever in this world."

After this, Rachel writes "After many years I have found that often we discover the place in us that carries the light only after it has become dark. Sometimes it is only in the dark that we know the value of this place. But there is a place in everyone that can carry the light."

I don't believe in a God, but I believe in Light, which may be what people mean by God anyway. Because of this story I was inspired to get a menorah and candles and celebrate this beautiful holiday in my own non-Jewish way. I wanted to take some time to remind myself of the light inside of me, the light inside of all of us, and our call to kindle the light inside of each other.

May your inner light shine warm and bright as the days get colder and darker, and may we grow to be able to see the light inside of every person.