Happy Chanukah. These next days will see families gather and candles lit and, probably, some gifts exchanged. This is al ways an interesting time for us, especially, I think, this year as Chanukah comes at Christmas time and flows right into the secular new year. The gradual increase in light over the eight nights can symbolize so many things, not the least of which is the growth of our own life experience over our life.
There is another powerful message that we can take from these lights. It is the power of our own presence in other people’s lives. Our generation has amassed a huge reservoir of life experience and that experience can be a gift to others. Despite the TV images of family gatherings, we know that so many people are without that close personal relationship that can be the difference between having and anchor or living without a sense of grounding. I just finished reading a book that many friends suggested. J.D Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” describes the authors’ life growing up in Appalachia. It sheds light on some of the sociological changes in the last decades and makes a major point of how important the presence of a continuing adult role model can be in someone’s life.
We can bring the “light” of our own experience and personal presence to someone else. As Vance writes: “Entire volumes are devoted to the phenomenon or ‘resilient children’–kids who prosper despite an unstable home because they have the social support of a loving adult”. (p. 149) Let me suggest that this concept is not just limited to young people. In a recent New York Times article on loneliness, the same argument was made as it relates to elders. “Loneliness Is A Health Hazard, But There Are Remedies” (N.Y. Times December 22, 2016. page A-3).Again, the power of personal relationships can give someone a sense of being valued and, as many of us know,one of the great challenges and fears of aging is the challenge and fear of being alone.
Part of being an elder in this day and age can mean being a constant presence in another person’s life. A role model and symbol of experience that can teach a person how to navigate life is a need that often goes unmet in our society.This inter-generational relational model is beneficial to all concerned. By the way, this need for this symbolic exemplar of life is one of the reasons that grand-parents are such a powerful presence for so many families. Boomers as active and involved grandparents, as many of us know, provide a light that transcends time and space. Can there be anything better?
Have a wonderful and very happy Chanukah season.
Rabbi Richard F Address