The towering tree in the center of the Square provided a beautiful focal point and drew my eyes back again and again. Yet all of the glitter and glitz seemed too commercial. Strangely, the larger-than-life window display at Macy’s was taken from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Wasn’t he the kid looking for meaning in the overly-commercialized holidays? I felt a lot like Charlie.
Margarita and Amber walked in front of me as we headed away from the center of things. I followed without question, happy to be going anywhere with them. They stopped at a huge Menorah near the main entrance to the Square. A Menorah? Interesting, but why stop? I’ve found that when it comes to the experience of Life, if I’ll just go with the flow I receive something I need. So it was that night.
My girls had stalled, so I entertained myself by looking around at the incredible mix of bystanders. San Francisco never disappointed when it came to people-watching. Someone with a microphone announced that it was almost time to light the Menorah. Fine, but why were we staying? And indeed, why were there Asians, Italians, and Mexicans hanging around—to mention but a few of the ethnic groups represented. It seemed as though the majority of onlookers were not Jewish, yet there we waited…for something. If I were a religious sort, I’d say we had been called. But wait.
The next announcement: “Rabbi So-and-So will address us now.”
I almost groaned aloud. What could a bearded old man have to say that would be relevant to me? I wanted to move on. There was so much to see. My girls didn’t move so I stayed put.
A bearded man (not old) approached the microphone and welcomed us. My attention was drawn away for a moment by a man passing out tiny candles with an aluminum foil base for catching dripping wax. If we have candles, my inner child observed with glee, maybe this won’t be so boring.
Candle Giver said, “In a minute we’ll bring a torch and light a few candles, then you can pass the light to each other.” I liked the metaphor, and when I glanced around, everyone was engaged.
The rabbi spoke about the heroic endurance of Jews and explained the meaning of Chanukah. It’s a lovely story, but I already knew it and my mind wandered, making up one-minute tales about the various interesting people surrounding me.
My mind snapped back when the rabbi said, “Deep within each of us is a light. Maybe you’re familiar with it and maybe you’ve not discovered it yet. Your job as a human being is to find your light and shine it as brightly as you can. Don’t let anyone stop you, and don’t let others cover your light or dim it. Shine it full-strength because your light is essential to this world.” I’m doing a bad job of paraphrasing, but you get the drift.
He was talking, of course, about LOVE. The light is love. I had heard this message from many different mouths, mouths of various religions. Christ said it before there was ever “Christianity,” and many before him and many after him, “Love one another.” It’s so clear. How can we be getting it so wrong?
I looked around at the faces watching the Menorah—Protestants, Jews, Muslims, a couple of Buddhist monks, Roman Catholics, and atheists. It hit me. This is what Americans need to do in response to the fear and hate-mongers. We need to stand quietly, with respect, and hear people of other faiths speak. At the bottom of every religion is love. Nothing else matters. Ironic, isn’t it, that it took a Jewish rabbi to bring back my Christmas spirit?
Speaking of light and love… As we prepared to leave San Francisco, the girls left me alone a few minutes at the entrance to the ferry building while they went to check on the departure times and places to eat lunch. Across the way from me sat a man in a wheelchair. Late thirties in age, he was missing one leg and had the ragged look of a homeless person.
He watched me, which was fair enough since I had started it by watching him. My heart wanted to give him money, a place to live, a bowl of soup, hope, a way to start over. I couldn’t do any of that, so I smiled. He returned my smile and in doing so, shone his light on me full-strength. The brilliance in it was so heartfelt and beautiful that I’m still thinking about it days later.
I had shined my light. He shined his. No money, words, or goods exchanged hands. Yet we made contact, human to human, and it was wonderful. A homeless man gave me a gift I will always cherish.