I cannot say I was surprised. Dismayed, yes. Surprised, no.
I have been walking around for days now with a tight chest, a fist clenched in there that I cannot seem to open. There is so much turmoil and trouble these days: internationally, nationally, locally, personally, internally. I can't seem to set it aside or gain any perspective or see my way through it. Each night I drop into bed, grateful for the dark, grateful to turn over and hold Warren, my safe harbor. But the clenched fist is there when I awake, and I carry it through the day with me.
It is clenching right now, as I write these words.
It is Hanukkah; tonight is night seven and my menorahs will be ablaze. The outside world has butted into Hanukkah as well. You are supposed to light the candles at sunset, but some nights I have not, can not, light them until much later. Last night with our schedules and the Symphony and other obligations, it was 10:00 p.m. until I lit the candles and we stayed up until 11:00 as they burned down.
The candles make such a brave light at the dark time of the year. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner reminds us that these tiniest bits of light help us remember the divine presence.
I am trying to remember that, but I am not overcoming the clenched fist.
I am waiting for a miracle.
The late writer Chaim Potok wrote a short story about Hanukkah, "Miracles for a Broken Planet." It is a childhood memory of observing Hanukkah in New York in 1938, a month after Kristallnacht. Potok does not understand why God allowed Kristallnacht to happen. He goes through Hanukkah dreaming of shattered glass and burning synagogues and wondering where God was.
It is Potok's father who finally addresses the situation:
On the eighth and final night of the festival I stood with my parents in front of the burning candles. The darkness mocked their light. I could see my parents glancing at me. My mother sighed. Then my father murmured my name.
"You want another miracle?" he asked wearily.
I did not respond.
"Yes," he said. "You want another miracle." He was silent a moment. Then he said, in a gentle, urging voice, "I also want another miracle. But if it does not come, we will make a human miracle. We will give the world the special gifts of our Jewishness. We will not let the world burn out our souls."
The candles glowed feebly against the dark window.
"Sometimes I think man is a greater miracle-maker than God," my father said tiredly, looking at the candles. "God does not have to live day after day on this broken planet. Perhaps you will learn to make your own miracles. I will try to teach you how to make human miracles."
Potok reflect on his father's words and does not believe his father can ever teach him how to make miracles. It is only in looking back that he realizes his father "taught him well."
Our planet is broken. Violence, terrorism, racism, bigotry, intolerance, refugees, poverty, hunger, homelessness: all the ugliest words in the dictionary are strutting their stuff right now. Add to that my personal bundle of health worries and grief and stress and it seems overwhelming.
No wonder my chest is tight. No wonder my blood pressure is up.
But the candles are burning, bringing their tiniest bits of light, reminding me of the divine presence.
And I believe in making miracles. Small miracles. One at a time.