B’orcha yireh or: By your light, we will see light.
I love it when a blog post starts writing itself in my head. I’ll interrupt what I’m doing—sometimes even my morning prayers—to scribble some notes. Once I dictated most of a draft on my phone while walking in the park.
But sometimes I have only a phrase or an image, with no clear notion of what I want to say and, crucially, no idea how to start the post. Having a good opening (the “lede,” as we call it in journalism) is like kicking off from the swimming pool wall: it feels smooth and powerful, and the momentum can carry me a long way.
This post started without a lede. The phrase above from Psalm 36—B’orcha yireh or: by your light, we will see light—struck me months ago during my morning prayers. What does it mean? It seems redundant, circular, absorbing the light of inquiry rather than revealing itself.
Eventually I came up with two interpretations. The first is a mystical and mysterious statement about the workings of God (the “you” of “your light”). If we rely on God, according to this idea—and mind you, I am a non-mystic—the divinely provided light will enable us to see more light: the light of other human beings or of ourselves.
The second interpretation is a psychological statement about the workings of our minds. If we return to what we love—the people and pursuits that make us feel most like ourselves—we will find light in the darkness. Either way, we can get what we need by cleaving to what we need.
“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” I thought. Then, almost immediately: “No. It’s the light in the middle of the tunnel.”
The end of the tunnel implies a reachable destination. It implies a fixed, singular path to reach that destination. It implies that what I need is far away, that I am alone in the dark for the foreseeable future, that the best I can do is hope that I will someday reach that distant light.
The light in the middle of the tunnel, by contrast, is right here, right now. It’s with me, where I am. B’orcha yireh or: by your light, we will see light.
I don’t know my destination. I’d like to say that my destination is a return to good health, both physical and mental. I’d like to say my destination is the ability to live life as fully as I used to: work, family, friends and community, exercise, fun projects. I hope for those destinations, but I cannot count on them. Clearly, there is no fixed and singular route to healing persistent neurological Lyme disease. So I try to focus on finding a path.
A rabbinic legend says that when the Israelites reached the edge of the sea, fleeing the Egyptian army, the waters did not part until after the first brave soul jumped in up to his nostrils. According to another legend, the sea did not split neatly, with a clear path on dry land. Rather, God gave each person just enough space to stand and breathe without drowning. No one could see the path; no one could see the other shore; they couldn’t even see each other. They had to forge their own ways, one step at a time, keeping faith that there would be just enough protection to take the next step and draw the next breath. That’s the light in the middle of the tunnel.
It’s been months since I was struck by this notion of light in the middle of the tunnel. Months that I’ve been thinking it could be a blog post. But I didn’t have a lede. And without a good lede, it’s really hard to get started.
Eventually, I realized that I just needed to jump in. Write a clunky, utilitarian beginning and then move on. See where it takes me. Come back to the lede later. Look for the light where I am, not where I’d like to be.
Maybe the light in the middle of the tunnel is Hanukkah, when we put candles in our windows at the darkest time of year. Maybe it’s the solstice, when we know the days will gradually lengthen again.
And maybe it’s “House in Fog,” a painting I brought home from my mother’s apartment after she died last summer. The artist, Francisca Verdoner Kan, lived next door to my parents before they moved to Florida. The painting shows their home at nighttime. To me, it looks both lonely and cozy: a dark silhouette with one small yellow rectangle.
Mom had a sleep disorder, and she was always up in the middle of the night, reading or doing crossword puzzles. When I admired the painting, she told me: “Fran said, ‘I would look over and see just one light on in the window.’ And I said, ‘That was me.’”
That was Mom. I look up at the painting on my living room wall. There’s Mom, my light in the middle of the tunnel.
What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.