lily art candlesticks - Andrea Toole

My Grandmother’s Candlesticks

What I learned from a flickering wick

Originally published to Publishous on Medium.

I have three sets of Shabbat candlesticks. The ones in the background I inherited from my grandmother. Real silver, as you might see from the tarnish in one of the photos below. My grandparents had nice things.

The ones in the foreground are a beautiful set that I bought myself in Tzfat/Safed, one of Israel’s holiest cities. They’ve moved with me a few times, and while I’ve lost some of the embellishments along the way, they’ve remained intact.

I’ve been lighting Shabbat candles the last couple of Fridays, exercising the habit of taking a moment to feel into the experience, and then taking a break from technology. Sometimes this break is only on Saturday, sometimes it begins Friday evening, and I make “technology” exceptions, such as using my phone for reading.

All this past week, I looked forward to “tech-free” Shabbat, to unplugging. Last Saturday, I got a bunch of reading done. I did housework. I watched an entire movie without consulting IMDB. I used my mind instead of Google. It was lovely. An entire movie without IMDB.

Usually, I use my own set of candlesticks, but this recent Friday, I lit my grandmother’s.

My grandmother’s candlesticks

I said the blessing. I felt the Divine. I felt connected in a beautiful moment. I imagined the energy of Jews all over the world.

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one captured it for social media, did it fall at all? (Or something like that.)

I happened to be in the living room again as the wick on the right side was burning out. I stared at it for a while, trance-like, in a meditative state. Then, because I seem always to be thinking ahead to what I’m going to post on social media, or blog about (or eat — though that lacks relevance at this moment), I decided to fetch my phone from the other room.

I wanted a video to show this special (to me) moment to my followers. Just reading those words makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m judging myself for acting vain.

Abandoning the faint flicker of the fire, I retrieved my phone from the kitchen and returned to this:

In this dark, empty candleholder, I discovered a profound lesson.

I stopped paying attention to what was in front of me because I wanted to document it, then missed a significant moment.

If you leave the dying, flickering wick that you’ve been staring at to get your phone from the other room so you can take a video of the flame, the flame will die.

In other words, I stopped paying attention to what was in front of me because I wanted to document it, but I missed a significant (subjectively) moment when I took my eye off it.

I feel this is comparable to a parent who misses their child’s first steps because they had to go get the camera, though I recognize their situation is much more significant. (Their child will only take their first steps once.)

Sometimes we need to leave the phone in the other room and allow ourselves to be completely present.

In almost breaking tech-free Shabbat (which I broke later anyway), I received a lesson in one of many reasons why taking a day to disconnect is necessary.

We don’t need to document everything

We don’t need to document everything on social media. I know this. And yet, I felt like I needed to share this beautiful moment.

I know that “pics, or it didn’t happen.” is wrong. I joke about it being true, but I know. I’m Generation X. We didn’t have Instagram or Facebook when we were growing up. I was in University during the time IMDB took to the internet in the 90s. “In the olden days,” we used our minds and discussions to find answers, not Google.

And yet, I’ve allowed myself to get indoctrinated by our current social tech culture. I don’t document my life daily — my Instagram feed is pretty thin — but I often have moments when I think, “I should tweet this.” But why? Why do I need to tweet this? Why do I need to share the moment of the flickering flame? Is it for me, or is it for my followers? I know that I’m writing this as a lesson to you, but a social media post would have been more self-serving.

When the candle flamed out, I received something better — a short Instagram caption post of an empty candleholder and a 900-word blog post that waited until 6 p.m.

I made it computer-free until midnight the previous Saturday but had outside plans for much of the day and other distractions. Today it’s pouring rain, my head is throbbing as a result, and while it could have waited until tomorrow, I felt that I should email my landlord immediately about my flooded basement. (You sit down at your computer to do “one thing”…)

Put the camera down. Enjoy the moment for yourself and no one else. Be nourished by it. Love it. Live it. Collect these moments. Allow them to be part of your life experience.

At the end of your life, you’re less likely to say, “I wish I’d posted more photos to Instagram more.” You’re more likely to say, “I wish I’d lived in the moment more.”

And that’s my Shabbat sermon. My parable.

(-“Rav Andrea”.)