When my oldest son was in elementary school, we lived in a small town in southern Wisconsin where the Jewish families were few and far between. In fact, our small congregation of 40 families drew people from multiple counties and we could only manage a “circuit rabbi” who came once a month. Needless to say, Jason was not only the only Jewish child in his class, he was the only one in his school.
Remembering being in similar circumstances in my own childhood, it was important to me to make sure Jason’s schoolmates understood his background and his holiday celebrations and for him to feel that “different” was still okay. Every year I would make the annual trek to his school at Chanukah time. I would bring a menorah and blue frosted sugar cookies in the shape of dreidels and Stars of David and read the story of Chanukah.
We all know about the miracle of the oil that burned for eight nights and I remember the conversations we had with his classes as he got older, conversations about what a miracle is and why something is considered a miracle. At the time, we talked about miracles as truly exceptional events and extraordinary occurrences.
The word miracle, however, has crept into our daily vernacular and we use and hear it constantly. “It’s a miracle,” when we find something we were looking for and thought was lost. “It’s a miracle,” when we actually manage to make connecting flights and our travel is on time. In the season of miracles, celebrating the holiday of miracles, I began to wonder whether the word has lost its meaning and lost its value. Have we turned it into a generic expression that does not carry the weight that “miracle” really indicates.
Discussing this with some of the older adults I am privileged to work with, they had very clear perspectives on the word miracle and the use of that word to really describe anything wonderful that had happened. Miracles, they told me, were accomplishments, like learning to walk again after a stroke. Miracles were those moments of life that surprise and delight us, like holding a great grandchild in your arms and seeing your own child not just as a parent but as a grandparent. One of them told me that every day they are alive, and able to enjoy some aspect of life, is a miracle. The defining quality of miracles, they noted, was that the miracle was something you were grateful for, truly grateful.
During this holiday season, perhaps we should take a moment to think about all of the miracles in our lives. Not just the miracles of finding the last parking space at the mall, but the miracles that define our lives, the miracles that truly relate to what life is all about—our families, our lives, our relationships, the good we do and can do in the world. To remember to not only recognize these little miracles but to be thankful for them could really be our own little Chanukah miracle.