Winter often makes me a little depressed: the sun is hardly out, and if it is it goes away early, and the cold just makes me want to curl up in bed and stay until April.
Yet, each winter, people all over the world celebrate holidays with themes of light, and last week Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, came to a close. Chanukah celebrates the miracle of light, when a tiny army defeated the massive Greek army in order to have the ability to practice Judaism without oppression, and the oil left in the temple lasted for eight days while it was only enough for one when they went to rebuild.
In today’s world, this miracle seems kind of silly, considering the other major December miracle is the birth of the son of Gd to a virgin, but without Chanukah, the history of the Jewish people, and much of the world, would be drastically different.
And while I’m grateful for the Maccabee’s victory, this Chanukah I celebrated the miracles that I can see, the miracles that are bringing light to my winter months. Here are just some of the miracles in my life, one for each night, not counting the miracles my incredible family and friends bring to my life daily by simply always loving me:
1. My grandmother: For someone who has just turned 90 (sorry Grandma, I know you don’t like sharing your age) and who has twice overcome cancer, there is no fight that is too big for her. Like the mighty Maccabee army, she has come out victorious when all odds have been against her. She has taught me what it means to never give up or in, and it is a miracle to me that she is with me to read this today. May we all be blessed with such determination.
2. The gift of continuous life: This fall, my friend was found as a stem-cell match for a 26 year old young man. She endured the prodding and poking and steroids, and then five hours of a tube through her throat to siphon the stem cells out of her blood. Recently, we received word that her recipient is 80% better, a miracle for so soon after the donation. Apparently, much of what makes us who we are is written in the stem cells: for example, he now has her allergies and blood type. We are all bound together, and this story can remind us of how humans are truly dependent on one another, and the fact her blood could save a stranger reminds us we are so much more similar than different.
3. The gift of rebirth: Friends and family had babies this year. It’s a miracle on so many levels. I think about South African baby Laiah daily, and am so grateful at having had the chance to hold her.
4. Courage: This fall, my roommate finally had enough of her unsafe and unsustainable work environment. After a 14-year-old student was gang raped by 6 peers in the stairwell of the school during the middle of the school day, eliciting no response from the administration, she could not return and condone an administration who would stand by such a disgusting act. Not only did she resign, she is speaking out about her story and people are listening.
5. For sitting still: This is my first calendar year in one city since high school. I have been given an incredible opportunity to learn how to just be. It's a miracle I've made it.
6. A small world: For all 6-something billion of us global inhabitants, we are truly connected. A close friend and co-worker, Amanda, was in Mozambique last weekend for work, and was alone in the hotel bar with a glass of wine and a book on a Saturday night when a young man approached her and invited her out dancing with him and his friends. After chatting with them for a bit, my friend was on her way to a club when one member of the group asked about her work. When she finished explaining our organization, one girl said, that sounds like my friend’s work. Amanda asked who, even though she figured she wouldn’t know, and was absolutely shocked when the girl answered, “Laiah Idelson.” Turns out, my coworker met a good friend of mine who is based in Cape Town and was in Mozambique on vacation. I am grateful that Amanda was not alone in a strange place, and for the reminder of how beautiful and small our world really is.
7. For finding my voice: For being able to stand up for what I believe in and for what I deserve, in work and love, in friendships and family.
8. For challenges: This year I formed relationships with people who made me question everything I have ever believed. I went to important doctor’s appointments alone. I struggled to maintain sanity during a time when my world was exploding at work and at home. But I came out of all more confidant in who I am, healthy, and put-together, reminding me, there is always a light at the end of a difficult tunnel.
Despite all the miracles, the winter is still often associated with darkness. As I watched the last Chanukah candles dwindling, I was a little sad. I was always joyful watching their small flames, and until tonight I wondered where my next batch of brightness would come from. But tonight I noticed how the snow flurries dance in the beams of the streetlights like they were performing, only to melt before hitting the ground. I know, though, soon they will stick, coating Washington in a sea of pure white, hopefully like last winter’s fairy tale.
This California girl couldn’t help but to grin, and that's a miracle.
Perhaps this winter won’t be so dark after-all.
May your winter holiday and new year be filled with light, and may you always recognize the smallest of miracles.