Winter Light Promises

by Jacob Staub

Western Snowy Plover the sign reads
as I arrive at the ocean from 44th Avenue.
White feather balls, huddling, fluffed,
sitting motionless like targeted ducks.
Do not feed them, it says.
Do not let your dog chase them.
They are endangered,
presumably because they do not move as I approach,
remaining still as the other gulls squawk and swoop around them.

The mid-morning sun hazes through the mist
as I maneuver through sand-encrusted seaweed,
looking for a shell or stone, a memento of my thanksgiving,
bewildered at blessings unexpected.
Grace startles, by definition.
I unzip my windbreaker and wipe the sweat from my eyes
as I squint at occasional joggers on the promenade above,
but I can’t see clearly through the mist.
I get sand in my shoes.

You too did not flinch at my approach last night—
a stranger, knocking on your door.
I wonder if this is how the visitors felt
at the entrance to Abraham’s tent.
Did he know they were angels?
You seemed to, greeting me like the messenger I might be.
Did he offer them herbal tea as he seated them on pillows?
Did he lean forward, face radiant, drinking in their every word?
Were they soothed by his presence?
They announced the birth of his son,
but did they notice their own yearning to linger
in the cushion of his presence,
wondering why they had waited so long to respond to his invitation?
Did he gently coax them to show their wings
by undressing his own soul?
Did he light candles with them?
Was it Hanukah in Beersheva?
Did the rays of the desert sun soften the December morning chill?

You too did not flinch when I placed my right hand on your right hip,
brushing the ridges of your spine on the way.
Decades ago, I would play with the pigeons in Riverside Park.
They did not flee at my approach, step by step, slowly, mindfully,
keeping my torso still above my inching feet.
They backed up the Hudson, pigeon step by pigeon step,
for blocks at a time.
God knows, they did not scare easily.
Raccoon wannabes, they would have backed me off of their turf
if they could have.
Unlike western snowy plovers, they are not endangered.

And you,
you rested your left hand on my left shoulder
as the sun set yesterday,
as we stared at the candles.
These candles are sacred, I chanted in the nusakh of my Hungarian zayde,
the Jacob for whom I am named.
These candles are sacred, and we are not permitted to use their light for any purpose—except to behold them,
to be reminded of miracles past and in our own day
The wonder of being touched
lightly, tenderly, unconditionally.
The promise that two might dare not to back away
and yet not be endangered.

Rabbi Jacob J. Staub is Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and directs its program in Jewish Spiritual Direction. He is co-author of Exploring Judaism:A Reconstructionist Approach.


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