The last night of Chanukah. Eight small flames multiplied by five menorahs multiplied many times over by the reflection in the darkened window. A real festival of lights, right here in my own living room.
The family gathers on the sofas. Someone brings out the old photo albums.
I’m staring at a photo. I took it many years ago, on this very night, the last night of Chanukah. In this photo, one of my children stands before a foil-covered table next to the living room window. His face is reflected in the window as he stares at the candles. My eyes are drawn not to the flames themselves but to his reflection. His eyes are two pools of endless wonder; his lips are slightly parted, as if he is on the brink of a new discovery.
Great things are about to happen, the flames promise him. Things that will be bright and clear, upright and strong. The flames entice him, entrance him. Yet after a few minutes the excitement fades; the flames cannot hold him long enough for him to see their light flicker and die. Tomorrow morning he might wonder how these tiny bursts of light have once again become small pools of hardened wax, but today he remains filled with hope, with the miracle of innocence.
I look up and watch my youngest child gaze at today’s lights. His attention is soon drawn away from the candles, while mine remains. On this night, the last night of Chanukah, I am filled with awe. How can eight tiny flames create so much light? I look back down at the photo and think, one candle for each child, and my life is filled with sunshine.
Then, like my son, my excitement abates, not lost in boredom but tinged by sadness. Today my house is full of light, multiplied hundreds of times as it is reflected back at us. But all too soon the light will fade.
I sigh and turn a page in the album. My eyes land upon another photo, taken not so many years ago. In this photo, the same son is with a friend. The two boys are laughing so hard they are bent over double. I remember the moment, the utter abandon of two silly young boys. I close my eyes, and once again I can hear their peals of laughter echo off the walls, bringing a smile to my face.
My smile flickers as I recall the last picture I saw of this friend. He’d grown out his hair, pierced one ear, and had taken to wearing a rolled-up bandanna, Jimi Hendrix style. He’d also exchanged his glasses for contacts, making it all the easier for me to see the dullness in his eyes.
My son has long since lost touch with this friend, but I know what happened to him. He started drinking and smoking, graduating to hard drugs seemingly in the time it takes for a brightly colored candle to turn into a hardened pool of wax. I know this because his mother called me last week. Her son needs help — the kind of help I can offer kids like this. But her son is resistant; he does not want this kind of help.
Over the past week, I don’t know what changed. I’d like to believe that somehow, a fraction of the spiritual warmth of the Chanukah lights found its way into his heart, or that the increasing lights illuminated, however briefly, the path he needs to take to regain entry into the real world.
Yesterday, my friend called again. Together, we are creating a plan to bring this man-child into treatment at Retorno, the rehab in Israel where we help young men and women from all over the world. He is still resistant; it is far from a sure thing. But I have seen miracles; I have seen more resistant kids take the plunge and come out swimming.
It is the last night of Chanukah. Soon the physical light will flicker and die, but for my friend, and her son, and in fact their whole family, the miracle that is light is just about to unfold.