I watch the flames as they dance and burn. I lean ever closer, trying to hear the story they tell. I look at the colors moving in rhythm; the red waltzes with the blue, the white tangos with the yellow. The glittering lights reflect off my transfixed eyes and as I stare into their dazzling faces I can feel myself being pulled into their warm embrace. It’s as if I no longer watch the flames but they watch me; it’s as if I no longer listen to their story but they listen to mine – and, as the space between the flames and myself begins to blur, I am transported to a place far away, far away within me: I have become part of the story…
…Winds howl in the frostbitten night. The slivery moon, waning with yet another month, looks like an icicle in the blackness above. Through my visible breath I see the tail of a shooting star frozen in mid-flight.
I stand there shivering, rubbing my numb hands together in an attempt at creating some semblance of feeling. I am bundled in many layers, covered in many coats, but no material can thaw this bone-chill, no fur can melt this iced heart.
All the homes, once places of light and warmth, have been destroyed: rubble and debris line the cobblestone streets. I can feel its murky stale breath on the back of my neck; an ominous gray cloud brushing against my consciousness. My trembling lips, bruise-purple from the cold, try to speak words, but all that comes out is a steely whimper.
I look to the holy Temple, for the luminance that once radiated the entire world, for the warmth that once blanketed the entire earth; but all I see is a hard darkness: I see people worshiping a thousand idols, their G-d long forgotten; I see bodies sculpted by Achilles, souls long ignored; I see minds shaped by Aristotle, hearts long resigned.
I crawl on all fours, sifting through the rubble, looking for a drop of the purity that once was. I look for hours, for days, but all I find is hopelessness. All has been defiled; all has been soiled. The darkness is too deep; the depths too dark. It seems once we’ve become guilty we can never retrieve our innocence. It seems once we are lost we can never again be found.
And then, as my numb fingers begin to fall limp, as my frozen eyelashes begin to close, as my trembling lips begin to lie down, I see it. Beneath the countless layers of filth, under the heaping piles of stone-cold idols, underneath the filmy mounds of soot and dust, I can see hope. With the last of my energy, my hand reaches for that little spark buried way down below. And, as my tingling fingers caress that last drop of purity, that single jug of oil stamped with the seal of the High Priest, I know that darkness doesn’t stand a chance…
… I blink and the flames come back into focus. And, as the flames continue to speak, I realize the story still dances on. The search for light in darkness, the search for truth in falseness, the search for purity in defilation, the search for warmth in coldness, happens every day.
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights: no matter how dark things may seem, no matter how bleak a situation may be, there is always that drop of oil that can never be contaminated, that drop of oil that always floats to the top.
I am watching the candles; the candles are watching me. I listen to their story; they listen to mine. Their warmth is my warmth; their light is my light; their story is my story – it is the story of light.
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