Light – and Hope – in a Time of Darkness

For the past few weeks, I have witnessed some glorious sunrises and sunsets on the Long Island Sound.

Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel
Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel

I always feel God’s presence during those moments, as I silently observe the sun, sky and water paint the most awe-inspiring landscapes. I am deeply grateful and appreciative of the beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis.

And yet, I know that for some, the beauty that surrounds us is obscured by the pain of physical or mental illness that weighs like an albatross around their necks. The pain creates an impenetrable fog that is too heavy and thick to break through. And therefore, at times, we are unable to see or feel or be part of the world that surrounds us. We are unable to be present for family or friends. Or it takes every last ounce of our strength to do so. And sometimes, the pain and fog and illness win. We can no longer fight. We have no more energy and no more strength.

Robin Williams’ death this past week touches close to home for many of us. For some, mental illness is part of our own lives, our loved ones’ lives or our friends’ lives. And because it is not a physically visible illness like diabetes or cancer, we are afraid to talk about it.

But if we are going to make any sense of the death of Robin Williams, or anyone else who has died in the same manner, we MUST speak about mental illness. We must learn that it is a disease that is like cancer or leukaemia or kidney disease or migraines. And like those other illnesses, sometimes, people are able to fight them and overcome them. And unfortunately, sometimes the illness wins. So we are left bereft and stunned and at a loss for words. And, we need to keep in mind, Robin Williams did not kill himself, it was his illness that killed him.

Depression and torment have been part of human nature since the beginning of time. In the Hebrew Bible, King David wrote about his anguish in the Psalms:

“My heart is convulsed within me; terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling invade me; I am clothed with horror. O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and find rest….” ((Psalm 55: 5-7)

Later on, David finds comfort and hope by reaching out to God:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help comes from Adonai, Maker of Heaven and Earth. He will not let your foot slip, your Guardian will not sleep…” (Psalm 121:1-3)

Judaism is a religion of hope and of light. We look for light when darkness comes our way. We find hope and light in the warm, loving embrace of family and friends who do not despair when we are in the depths of our own despair, who wrap their arms tight around us, even if we push them away. We find healing and wholeness in “lifting up our eyes” and hearts to God and community.

Sometimes, we find light and hope in someone’s silent presence. But we know that they are there – not leaving us alone. All it takes is one candle, one flame to dispel the darkness.

But sometimes, the flame does go out. And then, we need to find the strength to light a match anew…to create a new spark to dispel the darkness once again.

Every evening, there is a gorgeous sunset on the water and every morning – another gorgeous sunrise. With hope in our hearts, God in our lives, friends and family by our side, we can help each other to experience the beauty and joy of living each and every day.

Shabbat Shalom.