Contact Us

Being Real

Being Real

The Spark of Truth Inside the Shabbat Candles

 Email

The first evening of that summer we were sitting on the empty baseball field as twilight dripped slowly through the trees behind us. Our bikes lay on the edge of the grass. The air smelled like freshly mowed lawns, like honeysuckles, like the freedom of that last ring of the school bell. But there was a flicker of a shadow across Elizabeth's face as she stared at the blue and red swings to the side of us.

"Lauren's father is dying," she whispered. Lauren, our best friend. The girl with the smiling, green eyes and golden hair. The one who always had it all together. Even at the hospital later that week Lauren wouldn't cry. But to our horror she did pull out a cigarette and stand outside the electronic doors, staring at us with questioning eyes. Would we stand next to her as she smoked? Smoked! We were only thirteen years old, and none of our friends smoked. But we couldn't say a word. So we sat on the bench together listening to the echo of the ambulances and the ragged breathing of our best friend, struggling to keep the tears locked behind some invisible door inside of her.

At the hospital later that week Lauren wouldn't cry It didn't happen until we were all in sleep-away camp later that summer. It was the night of a camp dance; the gym was flooded with red lights and loud music. And then suddenly, Elizabeth was pulling me outside. I knew it just by looking at her face as we stepped outside, inhaling the pine-scented air and running towards the dock by the lake. Lauren's father had passed away. There Lauren sat, all alone on the wooden steps leading down to the lake. The black sky was studded with millions of stars. In the moonlight we could see the shadows of the endless mountains as we sat down beside her. She didn't look at us at first and for a moment, we all sat listening to the echo of the music floating down from the gym. I still remember the song that was playing. It was "Forever Young.": Let's dance in style, let's dance for awhile, Heaven can wait we're only watching the stars, let us die young or let us live forever... And then the tears trickled silently down Lauren's face. Elizabeth and I began to cry with her, but we didn't speak. None of us needed words. She knew that we felt the depths of her grief; she knew it the way we all suddenly knew that this would be our last summer together.

Everything changed when high school began that fall. We all went to different schools, and we all began hanging out with different crowds. I was in a Jewish prep school, and it suddenly became very important to have designer shirts, the right friends and the popular mask of indifference to the world around me. The long, blond hair that I had hardly noticed in elementary school became an asset, and my focus began to shift to "looking good." There was a whole strategy to looking good that I developed then. I had to have perfect grades, be on the most competitive sports team and date the best looking guy in the class. Every now and then I would look at my life and yearn for my old friends. I thought about how we used to ride our bikes to the pizza shop together and spend hours in each other's houses, never embarrassed when our parents argued or when our clothes didn't match or when one of us was scared of the dark. I thought about how we used to laugh so hard that we would cry, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't remember what we had laughed about. But I remembered how we had cried together, and I wondered if I would ever have a real friend again.

The only time that I could be myself was Shabbat The only time that I could be myself in those years was Shabbat. I would put down the masks of my life as I lit my Shabbat candles, and I would feel the emptiness inside begin to fill up with peace. On Shabbat morning I would sit beside my grandmother in shul (synagogue), and the exhaustion of the week would melt as we prayed. But as soon as Shabbat ended I would go back to my struggle to create a picture perfect life instead of a real one. When I began university I became pre-med even though I really wanted to be a writer. I joined the sorority of the wealthy and the beautiful even though I preferred the poets' society. And I began dating the guys who looked good on the outside. The Wharton guys with the perfectly pressed khakis and impressive resumes. During the spring break of my junior year I found myself in my grandmother's kitchen discussing my latest boyfriend, who had begun to speak about marriage.

"What do you think?" I had asked my grandmother after I told her about his intelligence, his sense of humor, his high salaried job waiting for him after graduation.

"Does he keep Shabbat?" she asked me. And for some reason, I was surprised at the question.

"Well, he'll go to shul with me..." I answered.

"That's not enough for you," she told me as she offered me a chocolate covered marshmallow. "That will never be enough."

Pretending was exhausting When I got back to school that week, I put on my sneakers and ran through the streets of Philadelphia. I ran until I couldn't breathe, until the beating of my heart was louder than the din of the crowds of people hurrying home from work. And I sat beside the river and thought about my childhood friends. I thought about that last summer. Was that the last time that I had been real? Pretending was exhausting; I wasn't sure how much longer I could live the script of someone else's life. And I wasn't even sure why I was doing it anymore. Then I thought about my grandmother's words, and I realized that she was right. Shabbat had saved me all these years even in university. It had been my oasis; my space to go inside myself and make sure that there was a spark of truth still there. And in that sense, Shabbat was everything, and I couldn't contemplate a life without it.

Then I thought of the vague images in my mind of my future. The two car garage and the white picket fence. The medical degree and the nanny and the new masks that I would need to paint. I couldn't do it. It had just become too draining. And I remembered that last summer with my friends and how we sat on that dock so many years ago and cried together. And as I finally allowed my own tears to weave their way down my cheeks, I could almost hear the echo of their voices from that last summer. It's okay. It's okay to cry. It's okay to be real. Suddenly it was as if they were there beside me, whispering: you can begin your own script now. And I took that little spark of truth, that beautiful light that had been kept alive only in the fire of my candles, and I used it to begin again.

Sara Debbie Gutfreund lives with her husband and children in Waterbury, Connecticut. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
6 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Edinburgh, Scotland October 20, 2015

I have just read your article and was incredibly moved by it. Thank you so much. Reply

Philip Cohn Indianapolis January 3, 2014

Loved this article:) Reply

Vicky Mckee Garden city, Idaho June 18, 2011

thanks I cried when I read this. I struggle every day, mostly because my brain disorders make me not too easy to like. Sabbath is a day I can really be my best me because It is so peaceful and calm .Were it not for this gift I would have died from exhaustion long ago. Praise G-d for his wisdom is mighty! G-d bless you for your willingness to share something so personal. I will keep you in my prayers. Reply

Janis Hammons Long Beach, MS via chabadneworleans.com March 9, 2010

Story This is a beautiful story that I will share with my many 8th graders. Thank you. Jan Reply

Anonymous Yerushalayim July 6, 2009

:) thanks for such a beautiful article, it really rang true for me.
your blurb says you are working on your first novel - i look forward to reading soon!
b'hatzlacha. Reply

chana givat Zeev, Israel July 6, 2009

thanks Thanks for articulatingh what so many people are going through - the endless role -playing and false games.
Shabbat has set you free,and may we merit to get that message to evey Jew.Al tikra kharut ella kheirut - the Torah is a blessing in THIS world, not only in the next. Reply

Welcome to our candle-lighting section, where you will find the details and practicalities of lighting Shabbat candles, along with the meaning, spirituality and power of doing so . . .
Related Topics