From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Light in the Window

It was the first night of Chanukah and the night before Ellie’s last final. As a freshman, she was more than ready to go home for the first time since August. She’d packed everything she needed to take home except the books she was cramming with and her menorah, the eight-branch candelabra that’s lit every night of Chanukah. Ellie had been so tempted to pack the menorah earlier that night. However, just as she was getting ready to justify to herself why it was okay to skip the first night’s lighting—(A) she’d have to wait for the candles to burn out before she could leave for the library, and (B) she had no clue as to where her candles were hiding—her conscience (and common sense) kicked in. The voice coming from that special place in her body where “mother guilt” resides said, “You have the menorah out, so light it already.” Never one to ignore her mother’s advice, Ellie dug up the candles, lit them, said the blessings, placed the menorah on her windowsill and spent the rest of the evening in her room studying.

Ellie’s first winter break was uneventful, and when she returned to her dorm on the day before classes started, she was surprised to find a small note taped to her door.

“Thank you,” the note said. It was signed “Susan.” It was dated the day that Ellie had left after finals. Ellie was totally perplexed. She didn’t know a Susan. Convinced that the letter had been delivered to her by mistake, Ellie put the note on her desk and forgot about it.

About a half an hour before she was getting ready to head out for dinner there was a knock at Ellie’s door. There, standing in the hall, was a woman Ellie didn’t recognize. “I’m Susan,” she said. “I wanted to thank you in person, but you’d already left before I finished my finals.”

“Are you sure it’s me you’re looking for?” asked Ellie. Susan asked if she could come in and explain.

It seemed that Susan had been facing the same dilemma that Ellie had been that first night of Chanukah. She really didn’t want to light her menorah either. Not because she was packing, or was heading home, couldn’t find the candles or because she was busy studying, but because her older sister Hannah had been killed by a drunk driver ten months earlier, and this was the first year that she’d have to light the menorah candles alone. The sisters had always taken turns lighting the first candle, and this wasn’t Susan’s year. She just couldn’t bring herself to take her sister’s place. Susan said that whenever it was Hannah’s turn to light the first candle, she’d always tease Susan that the candles she lit would burn longer and brighter than when Susan lit them. One year she even went so far as to get a timer out. It had always annoyed Susan that Hannah would say something so stupid, but still, it was part of the family tradition. Susan said that it was just too painful to even think about Chanukah without Hannah, and she had decided on skipping the entire holiday.

Susan said that she had just finished studying and was closing her drapes when she happened to glance across the courtyard of the quad and saw the candles shining in Ellie’s window. “I saw that menorah in your window, and I started to cry. It was as if Hannah had taken her turn and put the menorah in your window for me to see.” Susan said that when she stopped crying she said the blessings, turned off the lights in her room and watched the candles across the quad until they burned out.

Susan told Ellie that it was as she was lying in bed that night thinking about how close she felt to Hannah when she saw the menorah, that it dawned on her that Hannah had been right. Hannah’s last turn always would have candles that would burn longer and brighter than any of Susan’s, because for Susan, Hannah’s lights would never go out. They would always be there, in her heart for Susan to see when she needed to reconnect with Hannah.

All Susan had to do was close her eyes and remember the candles in the window, the ones that Hannah had lit the last time it was her turn.

Eileen Goltz

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