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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

Lighting Candles

This is birthday week at my house – my daughter, spouse, and both my grandsons’ birthdays come one after the other – 2 on the same day- and that’s not even counting my mom who would have shared a birthday with my eldest grandson. It never ceases to surprise me that this first week of June is so full of shared celebration. I think in no small part it’s because it is bookended by the yahrzeit of both my parents on one side, and my very dear friend on the other. Yahrzeit is the anniversary of someone’s death, and in the Jewish tradition is marked by lighting a candle. Unlike birthdays though, the candle is left to burn itself out.

My friend Judy passed four years ago, just days after my oldest grandson was born. The morning of June 4th, we had just arrived home when the phone rang, and to my surprise it was her. Her daughter had shown her the photo we’d texted and Judy called. She had been in and out of consciousness for some days. I’d see her about a month before and thought I had said my last good bye. And then that call! She was lucid and happy, exuberant actually, to hear about Mika’s birth. We spoke for a good while. I remember the joy in her voice, and my exclamations of what a gift she had given me. Judy had met my daughter hours after she was born, and now within hours after the birth of my grandson we were saying a final farewell.

It’s that bittersweet fragility that gets me every time – the intertwining of birth and death, those lines so thin, so close in on each other. The flickering light of our blessings. Nearly 25 years ago I was with my Aunt Terry at her death and wrote a poem titled Measuring Specific Gravity – these are the last lines:

I watched her, but saw my babies being born.

Something about the eyes, something about recognition.

Death and birth came so incalculably close

so dense in on each other. The space between

our hands only breath, an immeasurable crossing

beyond the rules of any gravity.

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