My dear Ilana Shira,
Before teenage life leads you to be too embarrassed to be seen with me, I would like to take a moment to discuss who you are and what choices you will face.
You are distinctive. If each of us has a delicate light inside of us, then you were born with a sparkler. It is not visible, but if it were, it would NOT be a roman candle or an ostentatious fireworks display with the cannons booming.
Rather, your light resembles the sparklers that chase the moon on Independence Day. It is more like an endless trick birthday candle that fizzles and flits unexpectedly left and right.
Though small, its effects are visible.
I can see your sparkler when you smile and when you dance, especially when you imitate a Whirling Dervish by circling on the kitchen tiles. I also see it when you delight in figuring out the math problem of the day, or show me a draft of your essay for school. I also can hear it when you sit in the backseat of the car, oblivious to everything else, and hum.
Your sparkler also informs your exceptional sense of fashion. It may come as a surprise to you, but socks do not have to contain silly patterns and bright colors to function properly. Your delightful playfulness with clothing will eventually cost your mother and I dearly, but please ignore our sighs. If beautiful clothes make the sparkler shine more brightly, then wear it.
If I might be allowed to say it, I also hope you learn someday that a true friend also can love you in a plain white t-shirt. Just saying.
Your sparkler appeared at the service today when you smiled, and when you sang the words of the Torah, and when you put your light voice to the Haftorah. You connected your sparkler to all those who have come before you.
Your mom and I are very proud of you.
Here is what I am trying to say. Your sparkler can inspire. Have the courage to act on its inspiration. Put it into words. If you want to offer a witty pun or any other warm and caring remark then do so. Give a smile to a friend, and offer a greeting, or a soft touch on the shoulder. A big gesture is also ok, like a hug or a high five. And do me a favor: don’t hold back in my presence.
Now for the avuncular advice: Your sparkler will burn more brightly the more you genuinely use it. As with dancing, practice makes action smoother. So use your sparkler when it does not matter; that will help you hear it during the moments when its inspiration can help you.
At the same time, using a sparkler often is not the same as using it well. It is evanescent and vulnerable, so it is ok to let it rest. It can be especially difficult to keep lit in the face of sustained adversity.
Finally, you will find in life that all sorts of behaviors and circumstances seem to be designed to discourage you from dancing in the direction your sparkler leads. There is no general principle to use, but please keep in mind that line from Hey Jude, “It’s a fool who plays it cool… by making his world a little colder.” You don’t have to be cold or cool.
Let’s drink a toast to sparklers, and to the dance of life. L’chiam.