Sunday, November 27, 2011

"If the world is night...shine my life like a light."

One of my favorite Hassidic stories is the one about the lamplighter. If you have never read it, you can find it here...I recommend reading it before reading this whole post, but if time prevents this, I will give a VERY brief summary:

A Hasidic man once asked a Rebbe, "What is a Hassid?" The Rebbe explained that a Hassid is a lamplighter--a person who walks the streets carrying a flame and, knowing the flame is not his, goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight. A Hassid will go to great lengths to light a lamp, even if the lamp is in the desert or in the ocean. He has worked hard to improve himself, and now his task is to bring the light of self-improvement to others.

I could go on and on about all the elements of this story that I love, but what strikes me the most is how extremely fortunate I have been to have had so many lamplighters in my life. Developing an eating disorder was like plunging full-force into darkness--no connection, no inspiration, no joy. After living this way for years, I grew accustomed to the darkness--to the point that I had adapted my day-to-day existence so that I could function without light; to the point that I had forgotten what living in the light felt like. At some point, the weight of my misery finally registered with me, and I began to give up anorexia a bit at a time...but in its absence, I was left with a whole other kind of darkness--the darkness of loneliness, fear, uncertainty, and self-criticism that the eating disorder had masked.

There to guide me gently out of both levels of darkness have been my lamplighters. Some have been treatment professionals, dedicated clinicians who have helped me repair my relationships with myself, my body, and food. They have answered countless questions with endless patience, even when I asked the same question over and over again. They have given me space to cry, to get angry, and then have shown me how to weather my emotions and release them in positive ways. They got me to a place where I was healthy enough to work on the real issues, and then stuck by me to help me sort out the messiness that comes with life in recovery.

Other lamplighters have been my "recovery mentors"--radiant women who traveled their own journeys of recovery before I did, who were willing to share their stories with me, and who acted as models of what life could be like if I would only be brave enough to let go. These women have been my cheerleaders, the ones who looked me in the eyes and told me they knew I would be recovered one day...and now that I AM in recovery, they have continued to push me to challenge myself and extend my life in ways I wouldn't have imagined.

Finally, there have been my friends, without whose lamplighting power I would surely be lost. My friends have illuminated the best parts of myself and have made me believe that I am worthy of friendship, affection, and love. They've shown me how to live with honesty, how to take risks, and how to clean up messes I might make along the way. I have also been blessed with friends who have helped open my eyes and heart to the beauty of Judaism, who have shown me the richness of my religion and the awesomeness of authentic faith. They've given me the tools to begin to use Judaism to fill some of the lingering void in my life, and have demonstrated to me that there is room for me in this tradition, if only I am willing to be open to it and to make a place for myself.

So, this post is a tribute of sorts, to all my lamplighters--thank you for helping to bring me home to myself, and for making me a more complete version of myself along the way. Toda raba.


  1. Bless you Rachel - I love reading your blogs and am so grateful to know there is light in your life now. It's wonderful that you can process this and share your journey at this point... You are and will be a lamplighter for many others.
    Lots of love always,

  2. thank you for sharing this. it help me find my own strength and be grateful to my lamplighters."may the force of all good be with you"

  3. Lauren--thank you! (Sorry for the VERY delayed response.) I feel blessed to be able to share the light I've gathered in my process...and, I bet you're doing the same, perhaps without even realizing it. What do you think?

  4. thank you for lighting lamps for the rest of us!