Recently I heard two people say two things about Chanukah, and both of them stayed with me.
The first was said by Bear Bergman when I heard him speak on Wednesday. He said (and I believe he was quoting one of his grandparents, who was talking about the shamash), that helpers aren’t happy if they’re not helping. The second thing was said by my sister, that Chanukah isn’t about presents, it’s about presence.
They were both nice thoughts, and thoughts worth considering more deeply. I’ve done them no justice here, and likewise, I probably won’t. Like any good math book, however, I’ll leave the proof up the reader.
Truth is, I’m a little indifferent at the moment. I had wanted to write a post about Chanukah last night. I couldn’t think of anything to write. And I want to write a post about Chanukah tonight, but I can’t think of anything to write.
Let’s face it: Chanukah is not as big as it seems to be.
In all the winter-time fuss of Christmas and Christmas shopping and Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving shopping, Chanukah gets a little lost. So we bolster it up, say it’s the Jewish Christmas, we give presents and sing songs and decorate things and make it all into something that, truthfully, it really isn’t. Chanukah isn’t the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Chanukah is a fairly minor Jewish holiday. So how do we always end up letting ourselves get caught up in all the wintery fuss?
For one thing, it’s fun. It’s fun to give presents, it’s a joyous thing to do–and after how hard and long and arduous this year has been, I’m really happy I’m been able to give the gifts I’ve given (and am still waiting to give). So, sure, the gifts mean nothing on their own, but it’s the thought that counts. And getting things is always fun. Maybe it serves no historical or religious purposes whatsoever, but it’s good to give. Sometimes, unfortunately, we need a holiday to give us that push to make us give more.
But if it gets the ball rolling, is it really all that bad?
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not calling Chanukah bad! I love Chanukah. It’s a bright and joyous holiday. How many of us feel a little wiped out and exhausted during the dark days of winter? A holiday all about lights is the perfect complement to early nights and cold, frosty mornings. The songs are familiar and warm and bring a touch of nostalgia every year. Even the latkes and doughnuts and the gelt, for all the harm they do, are nice reminders of the joy that’s always present, even in the deepest, coldest, darkest times of the whole year.
We need those reminders, or else we’d go insane.
There was a book I read last Chanukah, I believe, in which it exalted a specific trait each night, to give each candle something meaningful. I read that book happily and enjoyed it thoroughly. And on the night it mentioned bravery, I took all my braveness (which was incredibly lacking, and in many accounts still is, although I’ve learned it’s not about the bravery, it’s about the doing-what-needs-to-be-done that matters most–call that bravery if you will; I know I won’t), and with that braveness, I told my mom I wanted to call a guy I’d been talking with online.
I ended up calling him. We talked a few times. He lost my number. I never gave it back.
More recently I’ve found myself in similar positions, but so far, nothing warm and bright have come of them. I can always be hopeful. I joke around with friends about relationships, and one friend summed it up perfectly: “Step one: Find a boyfriend.” Another said it more hopefully: “You’ll find your Jewish Cowboy.”
One of my longest friends told me I’m always warm inside. I like crawling into cold beds at night, snuggling tight in the blankets around my own warmth, dreaming of sharing that coldness with someone else. It’s only human nature to want not to be alone. It’s only human nature. We’re social creatures, we crave companionship. One might wonder why it’s so hard.
I feel like I’m rambling. Love can do that to a guy, as can the absence of love. Love’s a fickle thing, you know. It breaks hearts. It mends hearts. It uplifts and throws down, it twists the truth and bends fiction into reality. It’s unexplainable and inextricable, equally as enigmatic as it is problematic. You’d think we’d just get rid of the thing, but every time we’ve got it we only want more of it, and as soon as it’s gone, we find ourselves wanting it again.
Light’s a little different. We have light all the time. We take it for granted, we use it, we abuse it. We pollute the world with it. And then we flick it off and go to bed, not one thought for thing left in our heads. So when on Chanukah we light candles, just to see the flames, to embark in their light, to imbue ourselves with their warmth–their eternal warmth in passing measures, each candle a note to a song to be remembered–we take special notice of the light. We enshrine it. We hallow it. We take every bit of it inside each of us.
And then we turn it into something greater, something else. We turn it into presence. We turn it into hope and defiance. We turn it into love and all its forms and we turn it into memories and new ventures to be born.
Tonight we added four candles and let the helper do the helping. It was happy. So was I.