I blinked an eye open. The first fingers of light were pushing through the blinds, but the clock still read 6 o’clock.
I burrowed back into my pillow, pulled the quilt up to my ears. Beside me, my husband shifted and snored. The house stood still and silent, baked in the warm scent of soundless sleep.
An hour later, the darkness had completely subsided into daylight, and I climbed from the bed and into the warm stream of the shower. The house was still silent.
As soon as I reached the kitchen, flipped on the light and poured water into a glass, I heard the shuffle of quick footsteps.
“I’ve been up for a while,” Shaya said as he burrowed into me, clutching his well-worn faded green blanket covered in cute frogs and his tan teddy bear. “I just didn’t want to go downstairs alone.”
Later, we sat on the couch in the living room and talked about time. How it doesn’t exist, really.
It began with my nine-year-old commenting on the wonder of how 60 seconds make up a minute, 60 minutes an hour. Why, he asked. Why not 100 minutes to an hour?
And then we moved on to the concept of time itself, how all we have is this moment now, how neither future nor past exist. We humans slot our days into compartments of time and then become slaves to our own creation.
Later still, my eldest son and I sat in synagogue as the Torah reader sang out the Hebrew of Parshat Bo. This, the story of the plagues in Egypt and our eventual liberation into statehood, into becoming a people.
That ninth plague, darkness – the commentary asks why the Egyptians could not simply light candles to see through this horrible plague. Perhaps it was not real darkness, the sages suggest. Perhaps we are talking about a darkness of the soul.
In fact, Ramban (Nachmanides) comments that the darkness was not merely an absence of light, but an opaque, fog-like condition that shut all flames, so dark that the Egyptians lost track of the days.
Time stood still.
In the same chapter of Torah, we learn of the new Jewish calendar, the way in which we uniquely began to mark time once we fled Egypt, once we became free.
Our calendar is dictated by the moon, from crescent moon, a mere sliver in the night sky, to full moon mid-month, when we are bathed in light and there is no perfect darkness, until new moon, which we cannot see at all. The waxing and waning of the moon reminds us that we do not always claim certainty, that truth and goodness are fleeting, but they always come back.
The metaphor is full. Darkness is lack of knowledge, it’s depression, it’s sadness without solace. In darkness, we know nothing, we cannot see our hand before our face, we do not know who is friend and who is foe.
In darkness, we are more alone than we could ever be in light.
The light, then, represents awareness, salvation, knowledge. Brilliance and connection, putting the dots together to see the whole picture.
Knowing what is right and what is wrong.
Being able to distinguish between good and evil.
Being able to progress in the world.
Being able to gather with friends.
After we became a people and gained freedom of thought and of action, we gained increments of time. We began to label the days and notice them. We began to celebrate moments with ritual and with gathering.
In my synagogue, there is a sweet man who sits in a middle row. He is a Holocaust survivor whom I met when I arranged for someone to come speak to my son’s 7th grade class. I did not know then that we would inhabit the same community.
Every week, I see him with his wife. His face is kind, his French accent charming. He does not smile yet he does not frown. I know what he has been through, but that is a time of the past, and we have only this moment, this time now, when we can live and breathe in peace, and celebrate the days in our Jewish ways.
Every time I see him in synagogue, my heart melts a little. I think of all he has lived through. I think of the miracle of his existence. I think of the stories he tells of hatred and persecution, of murder, of hiding until safety could be found.
Every time I see him, I think of how lucky we are today, how this time of ours is full of people awakening to light, to awareness of the similarities between all people.
Many survivors kept the tattooed numbers on their forearm as a reminder of a time long since past, which could return at any moment, a time when we were hunted for being who we are. For being a people who has endured through centuries.
I think of how we are so close – and yet so far – from true harmony. That while wars rage and tribal feuds grow monumental, crossing national lines, dividing countries and regions, we have a burgeoning movement of enlightenment, where people are throwing down the yoke of structured time to pick up the mantle of peacemaking.
We are on a journey of realization, which involves emerging from the darkness to the light, and staying within its radiance. We are so close.