Thursday, March 13, 2008

Candle Flame Friends

Suddenly, all went black. The green radiance of the oven clock died. The ever-present hum of the fridge was silenced. The comforting rumble of the furnace shivered to a halt. The velvety dark of the January evening enveloped the house. Power outage.

I noted my calm with satisfaction. What a grown-up. Feeling my way through the kitchen to the dining room, I ran my hands along the fireplace mantel and into the side cupboard to retrieve a box of matches. With the tiny flame at the tips of my fingers miraculously dispelling the darkness, I lit candles in two glass lanterns and the candelabra on the kitchen counter. It took one flame to light the way; only one flame to ignite many. The night remained at the fringes, but I was encircled by a warm glow.

The world seems a dark place right now. We need some good strong flames.

Despair is easy. The newspaper pounds out gut-punch stories and Yahoo pops open with horrific tales of the number dead in suicide bombings in Iraq. I don’t bother to watch the news anymore.
After his beating by the LA Police, Rodney King said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It became a catch phrase, almost a Saturday Night Live joke, and I wonder about that. Is coexistence among humans such an impossibility that the question is ludicrous? Why can’t we get along?

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Turning Point in Piermont, New York, to hear John Ghorka with my friends Joan and Polly. I had never heard of the musician, but Joan loves his music and I love Polly and Joan. Plus road trip therapy sessions are always a wonderful purge; when two or more women gather, there is healing.

Following the concert, we walked the causeway jutting into the Hudson River. Once past a series of landscaped condominiums, the way assumed the look of a tree-shaded country road lapped gently on either side by the river.

Seagulls crossed the sky in long, slow glides. We were three bright candle flames glimmering at those we encountered.

We smiled sweetly at an elderly Asian couple who had stopped to sniff the blossoms of a tiny apple sapling. We chatted cheerfully with a young Australian lugging a backpack. We even beamed beatifically at the mortified apologies of a fisherman who came oh-so-close to snagging my cheek on his squiddy hook in a careless wind-up to his cast. We folks of the causeway all got along fine, for all of our shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities. What’s the matter with the rest of the world?

Having said that, many times those with every reason to snuff their flame have blessed me with their light. In the nineties, I went on several trips to New York City with The Midnight Run, an organization that provides donations of sandwiches, soup and clothing to the homeless. Vulnerable under newspaper blankets, men and women startled awake at my whispered greeting were gracious in their appreciation. “God bless you for this. I wait all week for the Run.”

At Mercy Learning Center, a women’s literacy program in Bridgeport, there is not a woman enrolled who does not struggle against daunting odds to raise her family and pay the bills, yet they persevere, and their spirits shine. There are loving, hopeful hearts even in those where hope has been stingy in casting her rays.

As Polly’s van, Therapy-on-Wheels, rolled homeward from Piermont, we mourned the massacres in Rwanda and Darfur. Joan’s eyes were liquid wells of compassion while Polly’s flashed fire at the cruelty. These are my candle flame friends, and we smiled in thinking of ourselves as trembling little flickers, bending to pass our flame, one to another….

The dark pushed away, wick by wick.


JDCone said...

Liquid wells once again as I read your piece. Lea, this is such a powerful tool for your work!
Love you, Joanie

Ruth Ann said...

You did it again. Another great piece.

I know my new Rwanda friends would appreciate this one. They really do not see their struggle as anything so special and are rather amazed at how concerned we are about it, how much we want to learn from them.

But you don't need to meet them to have compassion for them. You have compassion in every fiber of your being.

You are the candle to many. In the Jewish tradition, a leader candle is a Shamas. It is the candle from which you light the others. You, my dear, are a Shamas.