Let There Be Light
My friend, Chip, recently told me that many of my blogposts seem, by necessity perhaps, rather dark - a mirror of the times in which we live. He made the remark in the bright context of his wedding to Sara, a time of ultimate joy and celebration. Given our advancing age, it seemed an especially wondrous thing to gather for an event that, by its nature, looks to the future and makes us grateful for the miracle of love and friendship. The comment made me reflect on how much darkness I should allow into my life, how to grapple with it, and whether or when to pass along my thoughts.
Next time I wrote a post, I promised myself, I will share my random joys: the splash of springtime color that envelops me on walks, the raucous crow that wakes me before dawn, my newfound dedication to exercise, old friends and new, the soothing ritual of a dinnertime meal, warm family gatherings, and, yes, even blogging.
And, then, Notre Dame Cathedral was consumed in flames. The sadness was palpable in the silence that surrounded the church as the spire collapsed and firefighters fought to save the bell towers. It was not just Parisians who mourned this loss but people around the world who have visited Paris or simply admired the cathedral’s age, its architecture, its miraculous survival through countless wars and the French Revolution. After all, it is the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned, and the setting for Victor Hugo’s epic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
And, then, I stumbled upon a Facebook post by a Rabbi and friend, who noted that Notre Dame, like France itself, has a contentious history with its Jewish population. Scenes depicted on the west façade of the cathedral include Jews who wear pointed hats, mandated in the 13th century, to distinguish them from the Christian population. In 1240, Notre Dame was the backdrop for the infamous Disputation of Paris, also known as the Trial of the Talmud.
In nearby Place de Grève, every known copy of the Talmud was confiscated and burned: twenty-four wagonloads containing about 10,000 volumes of Hebrew manuscripts. King Louis IX proclaimed that laymen should plunge a sword into those who speak ill of the Christ. Sixty-six years later, his successor, King Philip IV, expelled all Jews from France.
I share this not to diminish the tragedy of Notre Dame’s destruction. But the rabbi’s words were a potent reminder that all of life depends upon personal experience, cultural perspective, one’s knowledge (or ignorance) of history, or which pieces one chooses to acknowledge. Life is complicated. It is dark and light, sometimes like a seesaw but often in equal measure at the same time. And sometimes, one’s person’s darkness is another’s light. Oh, so complicated.
At the conclusion of my friends’ lovely wedding ceremony, the newly married couple broke a glass, as is Jewish custom. Enlightened as they are, they tried to stomp on it at the same time; happily, no bones were broken and only the glass shattered. Interpretations of this tradition abound. To me, the breaking of the glass represents fragility, because we all know that love and life are fragile things. We need to work to keep them strong, and appreciate the light in our lives just as we relish the sun when it bursts through our cloudy skies.
My eyes grew wet when I saw the absolute joy on Sara’s face as friends and family shouted “Mazel Tov.” I thank Chip and Sara for this precious dose of shared happiness. And I wish you all a Happy Passover, Happy Easter, or simply a weekend where levity finds its space in our complicated world. In the words of Genesis, let there be light.