This Bittersweet New Light

I was just about to head upstairs to post about tonight’s new moon/year when I heard of Michael K. Williams’ death. Now I am writing this on my stoop–in the same neighborhood where he lived and died– with huge tears running down my face.

I saw the brilliant actor, activist, dancer, and choreographer around a lot–sometimes at film events, sometimes just drinking coffee in the park–and he was always unwaveringly gracious and kind. That such a radiant light only got 54 years is beyond painful. As Roy Wood Jr tweeted today: “All I want is for black entertainers to be able to grow old.”

One of the most powerful, generous, and wide-ranging actors of my generation, Williams worked tirelessly despite challenging circumstances to improve his own life as well as so many others. That he died on the eve of a Virgo new moon and the Jewish New Year is even more bittersweet because to work tirelessly despite very challenging circumstances is the essence of Virgo. It is the essence of Judaism. It is the essence of this moment.

In this last year we have lost so much and so many—in the public realm and in our personal lives. We have lost stability and sanity. Sometimes we have lost faith itself.

But this evening is a reminder that with endings come beginnings. To be Jewish, of course, is to understand this bittersweetness. We build it into all our rituals because always we have lived with shadows, and always we have found light—or at least a laugh. Even our new year arrives just as the leaves begin to fall from the trees, as summer draws to a close.

It feels like no coincidence that tonight’s new year is accompanied by a new moon, which means the sky is not illuminated at all. When the heavens are darkest, we survive by faith alone.

Faith that light will come again. Faith that there is more than we can see.

That this new moon is in the sign of Virgo also feels like no mistake. For Virgo is the purest healer of the Zodiac—the sign that knows we must mindfully and methodically meet all moments halfway.

So tonight, mourn your losses and embrace your blessings. Then, rather than visualizing what you’d like to attain over this new lunar cycle and year, meditate on the values you’d most like to beam into this world. Compassion, clarity, unconditional love, you name it. Ask yourself: How can I bring more light to this perilously unlit moment? How can I honor the legacies of other light-bearers?

May the divine shine in every one of us tonight and every night. However painful, life is always a blessing. So are you. Shana tovah.

Images, from top: Michael K. Williams as Omar Little in The Wire; “Renewal,” by Miriam Schapiro; “Georgette,” by Florine Stettheimer.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy