The Electric Candlesticks

The Electric Candlesticks
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The Electric Candlesticks
Marsha Arons

Once a month on a Friday morning, I take a turn at the local hospital delivering Sabbath candlesticks to the Jewish female patients registered there. Lighting candles is the traditional way the Jewish women welcome the Sabbath, but hospital regulations don't allow patients to light real candles. So we offer the next best thing — electric candlesticks that plug in and are turned on at the start of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday at sundown. The Sabbath is over Saturday night. Sunday morning, I retrieve the candlesticks and store them away until the following Friday, when another volunteer comes to distribute them to that week's group of patients. Sometimes I see the same patients from the previous week. One Friday morning, as I was making my rounds, I encountered a woman who was very old — perhaps 90. She had short snow-white hair that looked soft and fluffy, like cotton. Her skin was yellow and wrinkled, as if her bones had suddenly shrunk and left the skin around them with nothing to support it and nowhere to go; now it just hung in soft folds on her arms and face. She looked small there in the bed with the blanket pulled up under her arms. Her hands, resting on top of the cover, were gnarled and worn, the hands of experience. But her eyes were clear and blue, and her voice was surprisingly strong as she greeted me. From the list that the hospital had given me, I knew her name was Sarah Cohen.

She told me that she had been expecting me, that she never missed lighting candles at home and that I should just plug them in by the side of the bed where she could reach them. It was obvious that she was familiar with the routine.

I did as she asked and wished her a good Sabbath. As I turned to leave, she said, "I hope my grandchildren get here in time to say good-bye to me."

I think my face must have registered my shock at her matter-of-fact statement that she knew she was dying, but I touched her hand and said that I hoped so, too.

As I felt the room, I almost collided with a young woman who looked to be about twenty or so. She wore a long skirt, peasant-style, and her hair was covered. I heard Mrs. Cohen say, "Malka! I'm glad you could get here. Where is David?"

I had to continue on my rounds, but a part of me could not help wondering if David would get there in time, too. It's hard for me to just deliver the candlesticks and leave, knowing that some of these patients are very sick, that some will probably die, and that they are someone's loved one. I suppose, in a way, each of these ladies reminds me of my mother when she was in the hospital, dying. I suppose that's why I volunteer.

All during the Sabbath, thoughts of Mrs. Cohen and her grandchildren kept intruding. On Sunday morning, I went back to the hospital to retrieve the candlesticks. As I approached Mrs. Cohen's room, I saw her granddaughter sitting on the floor outside her door. She looked up as she heard my cart approach. "Please," she asked, "could you leave the candlesticks for just a few more hours?"

I was surprised by her request, so she started to explain.

She told me that Mrs. Cohen had taught her and her brother, David, everything they knew about being religious. Their parents had divorced when they were very young and both parents had worked long hours. She and her brother spent most weekends with their grandmother.

"She made the Sabbath for us," said Malka. "She cooked and cleaned and baked and the whole house looked and smelled and was ... special in a way I can't even express. Going there was like entering a different world. My brother and I found something there that did not exist anywhere else for us. I don't know how to make you understand what the Sabbath day meant for us — for all of us, Grandmother, David and me — but it was a respite from the rest of our lives. It was wonderful and it brought David and me back to our religion. David lives in Israel now. He couldn't get a flight out before today. He's supposed to be in around six, so if you could please leave the candlesticks until then, I'll gladly put them away after that."

I didn't understand what the candlesticks had to do with David's arrival. Malka explained. "Don't you see? For my grandmother, the Sabbath was our day for happiness. She wouldn't want to die on the Sabbath. If we could just make her believe that it's still the Sabbath, maybe she can hold on until David can get here. Just until he can tell her good-bye."

Nothing would have induced me to touch those candlesticks then, and I told Malka I would come back later. I couldn't say anything, so I just squeezed her hand.

There are some moments in time, some events that can bond even total strangers. This was such a moment.

For the rest of the day, I went about my business but couldn't stop thinking about the drama unfolding at the hospital. Whatever strength that old lady in the hospital bed had left was being expended in just staying alive.

And it wasn't for herself that she was making the effort. She had already made it clear to me by her attitude that she didn't fear death. She had seemed to know and accept that it was her time, and was, in fact, ready to go.

For me, Sarah Cohen personified a type of strength I didn't know existed, and a type of love I didn't know could be so powerful. She was willing to concentrate her whole being on staying alive through the Sabbath. She didn't want her loved ones to associate the beauty and joy of the Sabbath with the sadness of her death. And perhaps she also wanted her grandchildren to have the sense of closure that comes from being able to say good-bye to the one person who most profoundly affected their lives.

When I returned to the hospital Sunday night, I was crying before I even reached the room. I looked inside. The bed was empty and the candlesticks had been turned off.

Then I heard a voice behind me say softly, "He made it."

I looked into Malka's dry-eyed face. "David arrived this afternoon. He's saying his prayers now. He was able to tell her good-bye and he also had good news — he and his wife are expecting a baby. If it's a girl, her name will be Sarah."

Somehow, I wasn't surprised.

I wrapped the electric cord around the base of the candlesticks. They were still warm.

(from Chicken Soup for the Women's Soul)


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  • 来源:外教社 2015-07-17