WINTER: TONIGHT: SUNSET

David Budbill, from While We’ve Still Got Feet .
Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.

Chanukah—the Festival of lights—arrives “early” this year. Which is to say that it always begins on the 25th of Kislev but that, with respect to the secular calendar, there is a significant gap this year between Chanukah and Christmas? Which, for many of us, is a nice thing insofar as it diminishes our exposure to the inevitable and inappropriate comparisons between those holidays?

As December 1st approaches, we will pull down from our shelves or out of cupboards our heirloom Chanukiyot (Chanukah candelabra) or, perhaps, we will fashion a new one this year out of recycled materials, and we will ready ourselves for that first night’s candle-lighting ritual.

On that first night of Chanukah we recite three b’rachot (blessings). The first references our obligation to light the festival lights; the second reminds us of the miracles our ancestors experienced at this season of year in ages past. And on the first night, and the first night only, we add that blessing known as Sh’hechianu, giving praise for the Power that “gives us life, sustains us, and enables us to reach this season.”

The older I get, the more I treasure the opportunity to recite that particular b’racha. Which is why I was delighted to encounter the poem by David Budbill reproduced above. Its closing lines strike me as a beautiful translation of Sh’hechianu and, having just bit the bullet and joined AARP, I can speak the poet’s words and mean them:

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.

As the dark of winter closes in to enfold us, and we gather round the Chanukah candles on the first night to warm our souls with light and with memory, may the words of Sh’hechianu and/or Budbill’s poem, call us to the kind of gratitude that engenders generosity in spirit and in deed.

Reb Elias