Last night, our family celebrated the eighth and final night of Chanukah. We had just returned home from a trip to San Francisco, placed all of our suitcases in to the house, said hello to all of our animals, and brought out one of our menorahs. Chanukah is a celebration of light and of freedom. It memorializes the first battle that was fought for the right to religious freedom. During each of the eight nights of Chanukah, a candle is lit beginning from right to left until the final night when all eight of the candles are finally illuminated. The center candle is known as the "shamash", or the helper candle. It is used each night to light all of the other candles. The reason that it stands above the other candles is to remind us that God is always above us. To me, it represents the idea that God is with us to light the paths of our lives and to guide us, even when things seem to be at their darkest. It offers brightness and hope and encouragement. It is a symbol of family and friends. Although Chanukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition, it is a time which is looked upon with great fondness. It is a time of celebration and joy. Often times, the children receive one gift on each night. For our family, it has always been a time to celebrate together. On one of the nights, I would have our extended family over to our home. Of course, this always included my beloved brother, my sister-in-law and my two wonderful nieces. Having my brother and the girls around always made me feel as if he and I had somehow succeeded in achieving the close-knit family that we were deprived of as children. We always looked on, in awe, as our six daughters loved on one another in a way that we never experienced during our younger years. He would sometimes shake his head and say, "I cannot believe that all of these girls belong to us!" The look on his face as he took in those moments is something that I will hold onto within my memory forever.
As Chanukah approached, this year, I found myself dreading it. You see, when my brother gave me his usual bear hug before he walked out my door last year, I never, ever, ever thought it would be the last time that I would see him in this lifetime. I didn't hold on long enough. I didn't memorize what his final words to me were. I did not know that just about six weeks later, as we were preparing to meet him and his family for dinner, that he would be gone. And that the next time I saw him, he would be dead.
My family has taken this in each of their own ways. But the one that sticks in my mind is the phone call which I received from my youngest Angel, one night, when she was home alone. She was quietly crying and when I asked her what was wrong, she replied that she missed her Uncle Robbie. She said that she had written him a letter and that she wanted me to take her to the cemetery so that she could give it to him. Ten months later, the tears flowed so freely that all I could do was tell her that I understood. I still haven't asked her if I could read the letter. I still have not gathered the courage to face my brother's grave site, again. I know he is not there, but the part of the earth which he has now become a part of, is. And I do not know if I am yet brave enough to face the finality of it. In Judaism, the grave stands marked with nothing but a simple plaque, for the first year. Around the anniversary of the death, a ceremony known as an "unveiling" is done, and the completed gravestone is then placed at the site. My brother's wife will not be having an unveiling.
When Mark and I were discussing how we would be spending the holidays this year, I knew that I could not face them at home. I wanted to be away, some place different. I wanted to be with all four of my daughters and Mark and I wanted Chanukah to pass rather quietly and inconspicuously. It is kind of how most of 2008 has been for me. A long passing blur on the highway of life. Large, readable signs popping up along the way, but for the most part, fuzziness and blur. So, we decided to take a trip up to San Francisco. Someplace far away enough to forget, but close enough to remember.
And it was good. It was good to be together, insulated from our world. Good to be in a big city. And good to be able to spend some time alone, together.
San Francisco is a city that you can get lost inside of. There are huge amounts of people, but most of the time, they insulate themselves inside of the safety of their own bubbles. In the picture above, Mark, myself and our Angels Daughters created our own little bubble of family.
Beautiful architecture fills San Francisco with monumental buildings. There is so much to observe and so much to get lost in. A visual feast for the eyes.
This father paced back and forth, with his little one in tow, for a good twenty minutes in front of the restaurant that we were eating in. We could not resist enjoying the tiny Christmas elf as he/she slept soundly nuzzled close to his daddy's back. Look at how the dad even kept a hand resting on the baby as he chatted on his cellphone!
Trolly cars are a traditional staple on the hilly roads of San Francisco. We skipped the ride this time, as it can be very interesting trying to find a place for six people in a car. People can become very pushy and aggressive, so since we had already ridden on the trolly's during a previous trip, we skipped it this time.
Mark and our Angels standing outside of the Jewish museum waiting for me to stop with the camera. There was an incredible exhibit of Andy Warhol's portraits of ten famous Jews being exhibited and so we decided to check it out. It was definitely worth seeing! We were able to stand within a foot or two of Andy Warhol's actual works! Photography was not allowed, but I think Angel Daughter Number Two(our photographer, sneaky girl) managed to shoot one great shot of the portraits. I will try to post it here soon!
AD1, 4, and 3 hamming it up for the camera. They sometimes get tired of me taking pictures of them. Can you imagine?!?!?
AD2, or Nanook, as I lovingly dubbed her, decided to don her winter hat in the forty-five degree weather. I definitely think that children who are born in warm weather climates have much thinner blood! My girls LOVE the cold weather, but of course they have never had to actually live in it.
I asked AD4 to give me her best "That Girl!" swirl, but unfortunately, she had no idea what I was talking about. She's a very good sport, anyway.
Chinatown is a big part of the San Francisco experience and it's a lot of fun to shop there. This is the entrance to several long blocks of Chinese culture and history.
And so, another year has gone by, another memory created. I cannot help but wonder how many more family vacations we will be able to take as our self-contained, little unit of six. Our Angel's own wings are becoming stronger and more independent with each passing year, and soon, there will be others joining our roost. It is only inevitable.
As I was searching for one of our cats tonight, I opened the door of a cabinet that I rarely ever open. As I looked down for a pair of glowing eyes, I found something entirely unexpected and it momentarily knocked the breath right out of my lungs. Last year, for Chanukah, my mother bought my brother and I the same, exact Celine Dion CD. Neither one of us were big Celine fans, but when everyone left my house and I was cleaning up, I noticed that my CD was nowhere to be found. Tired and admittedly, a little bit annoyed, I called my brother and left him a message asking him if he had accidently taken my CD home with him, as well. After a few days, he returned my call and told me, that yes, he had indeed taken an extra copy of the CD home with him. A bit sarcastically, he asked me if I wanted him to mail it back to me. I told him, "Of course not, I'll just get it from you the next time we get together." When Mark, my SIL and I were planning my brother's funeral in February, she brought the CD over to my house. It was kind of an odd gesture, so I placed it, still in it's original packaging inside of that out-of-the-way cabinet, a sign of it's seemingly unimportantness in the face of my brother's passing. Yet tonight, in the resurfacing of this still wrapped CD, there is a message from my brother. And although I have not spent the time to think it all the way through yet, I do know that there are no coincidences. There is, however, insignificant unfinished business which has suddenly become a very important reminder from someplace else.
I hope that your holidays were filled with love, meaning and enough joy to hold onto for a very, very long time. And in the coming year, may the symbols and signs that are meant to teach, stop you in the tracks of your journey to remind you that there truly are no coincidences.