Bright Lights, Big Miracles

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17 Dec 2008

“Who has performed for us miracles…in this time.”
Al Hanisim, prayer before lighting the Chanukah menorah)

Festively set tables, platters piled high with food and spirits even higher. The door is continuously opening, guests pouring in, filling every corner of the already crowded room. The star of the show, an eight year old girl with shining eyes and a sweet smile, seems to envelope the room with her zest for life…

As with all Jewish holidays, Chanukah is not just a time to reflect on the past, but also a time to examine the present. Just like G-d many years ago performed miracles for us, saving us from the hands of the wicked; He continues performing miracles for us even today.

This year, during the month of Chanukah, it was not hard for my family and friends to recognize the personal miracle that G-d had performed for us. Then again, maybe there is no such thing as an obvious miracle. For those who are searching, all miracles are obvious and for those who are “tuned out” even the obvious ones are invisible.

About two years ago, my youngest sister, Shani*, was diagnosed with a rare disease. At first we were told that it was “no big deal” and the right combination of drugs would solve the problem. This was a relief to all involved, as the patient was all of six years old and just starting her life.

However, we soon realized that the disease was far more complex than any of us had imagined. My parents ran from doctor to doctor trying to find the most effective treatment for their little girl. They were worn out and exhausted from the stressful days and sleepless nights. Through all this it was Shani who kept their spirits high. Although she was young, she seemed to understand that there was a reason for her suffering and a smile could always be found on her sweet face. She quickly became a favorite with all of the doctors and nurses, who couldn’t help lingering at her bedside or giving her an extra treat.

After almost two years of extensive hospital stays, due to two strokes and a number of other complicated medical issues, it seemed that Shani was finally out of the woods. And then it happened, just as the now eight-year-old was eagerly packing her school bag for her first day of second grade, tragedy struck.

At first she was complaining about headaches and then climbing stairs became methodical and deliberate. My mother, who had become extremely sensitive to even the slightest behavioral change in Shani, immediately brought her to the doctor. After extensive testing they informed us that everything looked relatively normal.

So, my mother sighed with relief and continued with the hectic back to school frenzy. It occurred to her that it may be a good idea to get Shani’s eyes checked before school began. She wore glasses already and there was a possibility that her prescription had changed. It was during this routine check up that the real problem was discovered.

Apparently one of the strong drugs that Shani was taking had caused unusually high pressure to build up behind both of her eyes. The pressure was quickly damaging the optic nerves in both eyes, and it was not clear how much vision she had left. Shani was rushed to the hospital where the doctors decided to operate immediately.

Keep in mind that this was a little girl who had already gone through countless painful treatments, gained excessive weight due to high steroids and lost almost all her hair. Her shining eyes were basically all that were recognizable from the Shani we had known. She had gone from a petite, curly haired little girl to a swollen, child with tufts of hair. And now this… We, her family, had plenty of questions but this little girl had none. So when she was wheeled in the operating room instead of skipping into a new school year with all her friends, she had no complaints.

To describe what Shani went through in her valiant battle to retain her vision would take pages. She was flown from Israel, her home, to America to benefit from an innovative eye surgery only available in Boston. She was separated for over four months from her family and friends as she underwent surgeries in the U.S. Her devoted mother always by her side, Shani immediately charmed her “adopted” community with her sweet smile and upbeat personality.

Finally she returned home with her prize, vision in her right eye (and suitcases full of presents.) Her left eye would forever remain blind, never again seeing the world around her. But Shani has chosen to see her cup as half full, and her smile had only gotten brighter. “On the side” she is still struggling with her original illness but otherwise she attends school with her peers and works hard in her studies.

Family and friend have gathered together tonight, to recognize the kindness of G-d, in sparing one little girl the plague of darkness. Our party tonight is a, seudas hoda’ah (a thanksgiving party), inspired by a young child who is determined to see the good.

And this is the essence of Chanukah. When the Jews found the one lone jug of oil, they were ecstatic. They disregarded the fact that their temple was in ruins and their place of worship was desecrated. From that one jug of oil they were determined to rebuild the entire temple and renew their service to G-d.

Let us draw strength this Chanukah, in a world full of darkness, from one little girl who is determined to see the light.

*names have been changed.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.