On every hanukiyah, there is one candle that stand taller than the rest called the shamash. This candle is the one that is first lit each night of Hanukkah and then used to light the remaining candles. The shamash spreads the light, as we are compelled to do. When reading a recent blog post on the URJ website about an important person in the author’s life, whom she referred to as her shamash, I thought about my mom.
My mom raised me on her own. It wasn’t always easy and I know I put her through a lot, but somehow she kept going. As I look back on my high school years which included the darkest, most intense bout of depression I’ve encountered, I cannot comprehend how much strength it must have taken for her to deal with her daughter’s mental illness. I remember one time, during a particularly heated argument, screaming at her to give me up to the state. I now realize how stressed she must have been, worrying about her daughter, wondering why she wanted to die so much and hearing her almost begging to be given up. And yet, she kept fighting for me, dragging me from doctor to doctor, refusing to give up on me.
My mom has told me that she always knew I would pull through and go on to college. I remember when we were meeting with the principal and he not-so-subtly suggested that perhaps the best thing for me was to drop out of school and earn my GED. I immediately liked the idea, but my mom was furious. As she pulled me out of the office, she told me in no uncertain words that I would not be dropping out and I would be walking across the stage to collect my diploma. Two years later, she watched as I received my diploma and began college at St. Edward’s University. She was right, as usual.
When I began grad school at Texas State University, I broke down crying and called my mom, wailing that I was not smart enough to make it through the semester, much less the next two years. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but when I hung up the phone, I was determined to just make it through the semester and then go home to decide if I was going to continue. But of course I went back and finished. My mom knew I would make it through the trials and tribulations associated with grad school and that I would never forgive myself for giving up. I just needed that Mom-patented encouragement.
When I decided to convert, I was terrified of telling my mom, but, of course, she understood. Even when we got into an argument right before I went to the mikvah, I knew she still supported me. She was deeply uncomfortable coming into Temple, but she pushed that aside to attend my conversion ceremony because she knew how important it was to me that she was there and she still continues to encourage my involvement in the Jewish community. She is there when I need her most and she provides light when the darkness threatens to overcome me.
So this last night of Hanukkah is dedicated to my shamash, my mom. She supported me through my tumultuous high school years, always took my tearful calls during three years of college, was always ready to talk me through stress fits during two years of graduate school, and encouraged me to pursue another Master’s degree. I am acutely aware of just how incredibly lucky I am to have her in my life. I don’t have the words to tell her how much I love her and how much her support means to me, but I am so grateful that she loves me despite my messy, convoluted life. So, thank you Mom, for everything.