What do you think of when you think of Hanukkah celebrations? Probably you think of some combination of menorahs, dreidels, and latkes. Get-togethers with family and friends, music, typical holiday celebrations.
At the age of 30, I have unfortunately more struggles with doing anything in life in a so-called typical fashion than I would like to admit. Extreme sensory issues and social anxiety make nearly every life activity pure torture for me. People's perfume and body care products, cleaning products, and general building smells make most public (and private) spaces inaccessible to me. Social anxiety and Asperger's make it hard for me to really enjoy the opportunities I do have. I still never give up, however, on finding a way to somehow make life meaningful for me. I don't want to just survive, I want to thrive. If I have to do it by radically altering every activity I participate in so that I can tolerate it, or working hard to change my mental framework of what meaningful is so that it matches what I'm able to do, then I'll do it.
It was with this attitude that I contemplated how I would make Hanukkah meaningful for myself. I had started to become sensitive to some smells in the room where a Hanukkah celebration I wanted to attend was going to be held, and was deeply dissapointed to not be able to participate. I attempted to go to a city Hanukkah celebration and managed to be present, but smells in the environment made me so tense and on survival mode that it was all I could do to get through it. Lighting a menorah by myself had no appeal. I joked with someone that maybe simply listening to my favorite Hanukkah song, "Light One Candle" by Peter, Paul and Mary would suffice as a celebration.
"Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts"
With these words in mind, I offer the following contemplation. The story of Hanukkah centers around believing you only have enough oil to last one night, but having it last eight days. A Hanukkah miracle. We light a menorah to commemorate it. .
But what if we extended the metaphor?
Menorahs are not the only thing that hold light. People hold light, too. In our world, it is very common for people to not believe that they have enough positive light inside themselves for others to like them. Anxiety about whether we're good enough is a common experience. Sometimes, though, when you don't think you have enough light or goodness in you for the social connections you need, you are surprised and find out that others can see more light in you than you can.
I spent most of today at a coffee shop I go to, one of the few places in the city I feel comfortable. I've gotten to know someone who works there, and have wonderful conversations with her when she's working. We talked off and on for several hours today, and my heavy burdens had somehow dissapeared by the end of the day with her. I told her of my dilemma of wanting to celebrate the holiday somehow, and not thinking I'd be able to. I could see in her eyes that she really cared. She made respectful suggestions, asked more questions, and just seemed to understand the difficulty I was experiencing. In short, I felt heard. That is such a rare feeling for me, to feel heard. One could say it was my version of a Hanukkah miracle. The warmth and light kept coming from her, surprising the voice in my head that said I wasn't good enough.
Menorahs, dreidels and latkes are placeholders for the rich history of Hanukkah, and for whatever childhood memories of celebration we might be trying to keep alive. But we should not be so attached to these ways of celebrating that we can't see these principles of Hanukkah in other places in our lives. The Macabees fought for the right to practice their religion and to be who they were. I fight for the right to be who I am, quirks and all, without that little voice in my head telling me I'm no good. Hanukkah commemorates the day the Macabees took the temple back from the Hellenistic authorities and made it their own. Perhaps, for me, Hanukkah can celebrate the day I take back control of the thoughts in my mind, and decide that what I have and who I am is good enough for the world I live in.
Perhaps finding unique ways to celebrate Hanukkah and to make it your own is exactly what the point is, given how hard the Macabees fought to preserve their culture and heritage. When we light the menorah, we light it in the dark to show how light can illuminate the darkest of times. It is a symbol of hope. My conversation today was a symbol of hope in the difficulty of my life. Let there be light, in our menorahs and in our hearts and souls, on this week of Hanukkah.
3 hours ago