Shifting colors, mostly green. First, they look like clouds, then, they take form, shifting in the night sky. It’s so cold, just shy of the arctic circle. Still, I’ll never forget the first time I saw the northern lights. We were north of Fairbanks, out in the woods, and it was the kind of cold winter night where the sky is so clear and it hurts to breathe in deeply. I don’t know what the temperature was as the world waited a pause between October and November. I looked up and noticed the strange, greenish ‘clouds” that seemed to be moving.
Like a lot of experiences in life, pictures never really capture the aurora borealis.
It moves and is mesmerizing, a river of light flowing through the sky. You never quite know when it will begin or end, so it’s important to stop…notice…be still and watch while you can.
And remember to breathe once in a while.
I tend to hold my breath at moments like this, or when encountering a moose, or suddenly seeing an amazing view. It’s like I’m subconsciously afraid that if I even make the tiny sound of breath that I will scare off that perfect moment and I just want to stay there, frozen in time, frozen in awe and wonder. I can only imagine that this must be how Moses felt, hidden in the cleft of rock as G-d passed by, giving him a glimpse of His glory.
Nowhere have I had more glimpses than in Alaska.
Standing, in the cave of an ancient glacier, running a hand along the brilliant turquoise surface, tasting the melted water on my fingertips. Seeing Denali rise up over the tundra in magnificence. Watching salmon run back to where they spawned to do the same…and die.
All of these moments have a power to them to make me pause and to remind me of just how small I am compared to G-d’s creation, but also how precious that in the midst of all this, we were chosen as His favorite creations, the ones He gave the gift of looking back at him, seeking him freely, free will granted. We were given the freedom to explore and adventure and climb and conquer as well as to stand still and draw inward.
That freedom and living someplace so endowed with wonder…is not something easy to give up in our winding journey to be Jews. I have good, logical reasons why it’s the best decision for our family even if it wasn’t required by a Rabbinic court. Our children’s Jewish education foremost among those.
Still, I find myself wanting to capture each of those moments of wonder in time, freeze them there, preserving that feeling for when I need it in the midst of the crushing masses of humanity in the city, and tap back into it. My Torah has been all around me here and I have climbed it, slept sheltered in it, and adventured through it, but soon there will be a day I will need to seek it not in natural splendor, but within. I won’t be able to simply wander off into my mountains to freshen up a shiur or regain my enthusiasm for a mitzvah. I will need to look inside for that inspiration.
It’s as if I’ve been blessed to live in a place and time of outward miracles and now I must learn to live in the world most people already live in, one where G-d is more hidden and we must work harder to seek Him.
But tonight? I’m chasing more auroras to pack away to help me on the journey.