When I look at the candles burning low in the brass menorah, I can see the flames flickering, seeming to pull towards one another and then retreat, again and again and again. I don’t know the science of it all, although I’m sure there is something to be learned, but I do know that while the individual candles sit independently, they seem to invariably wrestle with the space between them. Tonight, I am entertaining a rare moment of quiet and watching the flames.
The time leading up to and surrounding the Winter Solstice is full of references to light and, with those references, the metaphors are plenty. They are beautiful reminders of hope and they encourage us all to see the shared humanity inherent in our religious and cultural traditions. Hanukkah is a part of my tradition, and, for eight nights, the simplicity of placing the candles, lighting them and allowing them to burn down slowly anchors me to my family history and to my tradition. I am not the only one, though. During this time of the year, there are more homes emanating light than there are those that remain dark.
I recently watched a documentary, Mission: Joy, Finding Happiness in Troubled Times. This captivating film gives viewers a front-row seat to the sublime friendship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As I watched, I couldn’t help but smile, infected by the sheer joy shared between these two incredible leaders. The filmmakers were somehow able to capture simple moments of intimacy: a soft touch of a hand, connecting years of life experiences; a head bowed in knowledge of mortal limitations; deep and infectious laughter drawing me in from my own, still, living room.
While the bond that connects His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu is certainly palpable, it was the moments of quiet that resonated for me, long after the credits had rolled. It was in the silence when I saw that, even in the presence of a kindred spirit, solitary existence is perhaps inevitable. These two men share so much, and yet there is a limit to the connection, to the union, just as all human relationships seem, ultimately, limited. While some of us are fortunate to have found those invaluable few who share our space briefly, there are still times when we all retreat… recentering, grounding down and breathing. Just simply breathing.
The light that comes through the darkness of December does radiate among the faiths, but this year, I find myself thinking about the spaces between us. And not just the space that exists between us on a communal level, but the space that separates us from each other intimately and completely. While the candles’ flames dance in my menorah, they seem to always find themselves back in their own space just before the light is extinguished. The solitude of our existence persists, despite the richness of our living. So many have observed that while we live alone and die alone, the journey between the two is the life that matters.
Perhaps the secret is accepting that we are always dancing in the in-between.