Soul Candles For a Recent Beloved Ancestor


A month ago summer was still safely planted in my bones. I trusted sunbeams to mark a freckle or blush on my shoulders. I believed with the innocence of dawn more opportunities for impromptu dips in the Salish Sea were coming to me.

In the midst of this summer naivete time crept up, her steady presence ever near. 

It was a blissful early evening in the Northwest. The sun loped towards the west, glinting through the buckeye chestnut. My strong, knuckle prominent hands clad in leather gloves wrestled to remove English Ivy. This plant grows without mind for boundaries or the other native plants that struggle to grow in its dominating presence. A plant that continues to teach us about colonialism and the effects of the British empire’s reign. 

It's always while removing ivy that truths are unbound.

This time the truth came from the mouth of my lover walking through the yard towards me. Their pace across the short length of dry grass steady and gentle, intentional, markedly theirs. 

"I have some sad news that's going to affect you."

There's something about the moment before you hear news that will break your heart. Like summer in mid August, you can't fathom the apple tree not heavy with fruit. When things are good, full, sweet, we're most vulnerable to experiencing something otherwise.

"Noory is dead."

"What? No, what? what?"

"They were in Budapest. They were there with their Korean spiritual family. Someone else was driving the car, they ran a red light and were hit by a train."

"What? No!"

"All three people in the car were killed."

"Oh my goddess, they had just been initiated, what? What?"

"I'm so sorry Rebekah."

The first stage of grief is denial. Then you sit down in the grass with someone you love and hold each other and cry. You rock your body and wail. You feel a hand wipe tears from your face. You feel the immensity of love for skin and flesh and bones and big brown eyes that love you with their gaze. You feel the density of gravity holding you, sinking your body towards earth. The bodies birthright to be tethered. 

The trees become greener, the sun becomes more golden. Each leaf suddenly has a distinct song. It rings in your ears, a thousand prayers to carry a spirit away. You feel a soul expand and become gigantic, spread everywhere, to everything. You hear laughter bright in the breeze. Everything is illuminated. 

* * *

Some souls reach far and wide; not just in life but in death. So is the case with this brilliant soul. They knew better than anyone I’ve ever known as a friend, that a human body is just one way to travel. They lived each day with a depth, humility, delight and curiosity unmatched. Since their passing grief is immediate and wavering. As I allow myself to feel, I’ve been gifted with their visits of laughter and hilarity, instruction for ritual creation and a widening of my personal community- through the connections I’ve made with those that knew them.

There is a Central and Eastern European tradition of tkhines (Yiddish, derived from the Hebrew word tehinnot, “supplications”), prayers and devotional practices created and done by women (and I like to believe gender queers) who weren’t allowed to practice many of the rituals of the synagogues. One I have practiced is to make soul candles during the days of awe (the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippor). The practice is to wrap a wick around the graves of your ancestors, praying for the dry bones to rise. The wick is then cut and used to dip candles you will use for the rest of the year. Each time you light a candle for Shabbat or another holiday, you are alighting the soul of an ancestor. 

The month of Elul began with the past new moon, I still had my soul candles from last year. One of the practices is to make two candles, one for the living and one for the dead and to burn those two on Yom Kippur. I had decided to just burn part of these two candles on Yom Kippur and had been waiting for a time to complete the burning of them. 

I sat on my front stoop in the dark on Rosh Chodesh, the stars and the tiny sliver of the moon my company. As I burned the candle for the living I made space for everyone in my life I hold dear (and even some I struggle with, or don’t know so well but want to give blessings to), praying for them. I was flooded with love for them.

As I burned the candle for the dead I felt the immensity of my benevolent ancestors love for me, those of blood and those I have chosen because of their contributions to my queer, Jewish, radical livlihood. Some dead people really love to keep on loving. 

Noory’s spirit was close. 

I again felt them bless me with a visit. Their after life adventuring strong. Some dead people really know how to party. And some people’s idea of a good party is a good ritual.

Noory loved ritual. Ritual of any kind, from any culture. Never appropriating, always appreciating. They had just been initiated in their line of Korean shamanism before their passing. The last message I received from them regarded this initiation. It said, “Thank you! About to start in a couple hours..!!!” I remember re reading this message again a week or so later thinking, “I’m not going to write back because they aren’t going to get it.” A couple weeks later, they would be killed tragically. 

We all know on some level that time is an illusion, a human concept to keep us connected to each other, to the seasons, on the earth plane. It’s a concept we cling to. Noory knew ritual was a way to transcend time and space, a place to communicate with other worlds within this world. A place for all the most complicated and intense human emotions and a container for healing. 

Noory in essence, lived life as a ritual. Each day spent with them was supremely devoted to liberation of humankind, through acts of justice and joy. They were and continue to be a model for living. Thank you Noory, I love you.