“Darkness is not chased away with sticks, not even with cannons. One simply lights a small candle and the darkness flees before it.”
The Chofetz Chaim
“I can remember running. I was just running…I just wanted to be away from wherever I was.”
Back in the day when Oakland Raider Starter Jackets were cool and Don Mattingly was our hero, I had friend named Matt (named is changed). Matt was an interesting guy; he was sincere, sweet, and thoughtful, but he also got into his share of trouble. You could expect him to say something deep and thoughtful one moment and also do something really regrettable the next.
Today, he is still a great guy and he eventually ironed out some off his rough spots. He has a family, a job, and he is such a holy Jew. I am very proud of him.
We recently spoke and he shared an uncomfortable memory that he had been pushing away for years: It was the night he tried running away from home. With his permission, I’ll tell you some of his story:
It was Motzaei Shabbos. Matt and his father began to walk home from shul. In those days, Matt was really at-risk and drove his parents crazy. He stayed out way past curfew, he got into fights at school, he tried drugs, he tried cutting, he broke the law (misdemeanors mostly, but some felonies, too). Matt felt misunderstood and a lot of things were not going his way. His parents were good, loving, stable, hard-working people, but they were so fed up. There was palpable friction there. On that walk home, his father tried to talk some sense into his wayward son.
He remembers his father speaking evenly and calmly as they walked together. Matt looked at the ground. He heard this before, and – even if his father was right – he was done. He could not hear it anymore. Anger pulsated inside. He told me that his whole body tensed up; his fists clenched, his shoulders tightened, his neck stiffened, his body was shuddering. He had to get out of there. In his head, a voice was screaming, “Enough!”
Adrenalin took over. He just bolted across the street, around a car, and into a big, open field next to a school.
“I can remember running. I was just running. I had no plan where I wanted to go. In that moment, I just wanted to be away from wherever I was, for good.”
I remember from playing football with Matt that he could flat-out run, and he must have liked his chances of getting away, being a swift-footed 14-year-old pursued by a man in his 50s wearing a suit and hat. He turned on the jets and figured if he kept running he could escape and make up a plan later.
“If that happened, I probably wouldn’t be telling this story. That’s the truth”
“I ran full-speed for I don’t know how far, maybe a hundred yards, and I started to get out of breath, and I looked over my shoulder and my father was right behind me and he was catching up. I started to panic. I was like, ‘How? How is this even possible?’”
He was in shock that his father had kept up. He would not let his son go.
“I wasn’t even going in a straight line, it was really dark, but I could see the refection off his glasses and his dark outline running. I’m all gassed out and he’s gaining on me…the moment felt so intense. I was thinking, What’s he gonna do here? How is he keeping up?”
“I think I shouted ‘go away!’ as I zigged around a slide and he just zagged. I got a bit deeper into the playground by the swings and I just gave up.”
“My dad and I were just standing there in the dark, in the middle of a playground. During the day, kids run and play and smile; parents take pictures. I don’t remember him saying anything memorable, but his being there was a big statement. We walked home together.”
Things weren’t perfect all of a sudden; they argued, and Matt still got into plenty of trouble before he straightened out, but he never felt unloved. Matt would never, ever doubt that his father loved him. It was a huge turning point.
We reach low points in our lives; we convince ourselves that things are so bad, but sometimes we need to exist in the dark to appreciate the light. We feel blinded and scared; so remember it’s dark but it’s not completely dark. Our eyes adjust and we can slowly start to see. Like the light from the hallway creeping in from under the door, a small bit of light makes its way in. There is always some light hiding somewhere in the darkness.
“I just didn’t think about it for lack of a context to put it into… only recently it all hit me. I used to be embarrassed about what I did. Now I’m proud. I learned from it and I’m proud to have a father who loves me.”
That night in the park with his father, rays of love started to crack their darkness. Maybe it was a dim glow but it radiated enough to illuminate a path out of the dark, into the light.
During those dark times, before the miracle of Chanukah, the P’nei Yehoshua comments that not since the times of Shimon HaTzadik had the Menorah stayed miraculously lit. These were sad times. We felt alone. I think, as a people, we could have been wondering if Hashem still loved us. We had made bad decisions; we strayed from our Father. Would He plunge into the darkness for us?
We ran away, but there we were, standing in the dark with our Father. Did Hashem still love us? The P’nei Yehoshua explains, those lights burning for eight days were a resounding yes.
When days go from gray to black, remember: Even the darkest, longest nights are followed by the sun rising.
Simcha Loiterman is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. He is available for speaking engagements and presentations or a cup of coffee and a good talk. He would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels very strongly that you can learn from everyone because we all have stories to tell, lessons to teach, and can kindle a spark of goodness inside. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in “Life.” Visit his blog at thisisloit.wordpress.com to learn more of his ideas and opinions about our beautiful world.