Some Disorganized Passover Thoughts From Simon
It won't be the same watching The Ten Commandments this year, what with the guy who played Moses having passed on. ("I guess we can take his gun now," said a less-than-reverent friend. "Oh, too soon?")
But we've got plagues of our own to worry about; didn't you see that ABC debate? Some people aren't wearing flag pins!
We've been so damn busy, in fact, that my family didn't even get around to planning our seder until a few days ago. While Julia and sister Jo normally undertake the Charoset preparation, this year we opted to outsource to brilliant local cateress and VHJ Lisa Feinstein, whose Provisions offers an enticing, original Pesach menu (full disclosure: she's also a client. But I wouldn't steer you wrong).
This year, as ever, a lot of us will participate in a ritual that celebrates freedom. And as always, we'll be asked to consider the ways in which we're still somehow enslaved – to our obsessions, our emotional baggage, our chemical dependencies and other bad habits.
Like every year, we'll be enjoined to recall our people's past sufferings and – at least at our table – to consider how we are obligated to witness and, if possible, alleviate the sufferings of Jews and non-Jews alike, everywhere in the world.
We'll parse the symbolic importance of the items on our seder plates, and the youngest child (ever more precocious and performance-oriented) will charmingly enunciate the four questions about why this night is different from all others.
But I've got a question of my own (I can't help it – I'm the youngest sibling myself): How will this year be different from all others?
I ask because I'm experiencing something strange and unbidden, something attached to and yet wholly separate from the dark, anxious meandering that has marked the last several years. Like I've been wandering in the desert but see, in the distance, the possibility of a shady sanctuary.
I promised myself, this election season, that I wouldn't get sucked into the vortex of political obsession. A lifetime of disappointments dotted with half-hearted victories – and culminating in the dumbshit dystopia of the Bush years – had persuaded me that laying my bleeding heart in the center of the highway as a ritual sacrifice was no longer an option.
I had just about comfortably settled into what I regarded as a Mature Middle-Aged skepticism, and thus could regard all electoral jousting from an armored remove. Exhibit A? An entry from this very blog that promised, "Your candidate is a sociopath." So much more fun. So much easier. So much less painful that having a dog in the race.
Then along came a candidate who got me believing.
So about this strange flowering of hope in the Bush-bleached desert of my soul. It's forced me to admit some things to myself. That as much as I've decried the politics of fear, and as much as I've turned the mighty X-ray of my dialectical mind on "hope" as a trope, I'm just as fearful as anyone.
I'm afraid that if I open myself up to the blinding rays of what could be, a trap will spring shut on my flesh and spirit. I'm afraid that if I dare to believe in a candidate who seems to speak for the best in us rather than the worst, I'll find myself deceived. That a Pharaoh or a Karl Rove or a James Earl Ray or some operative in a black helicopter will end it all with a bullet or a conspiracy or a conspiracy of bullets. For all the invective I've leveled at the fearmongers, I've been a loyal consumer of fear.
Here's the thing: Hope is the opposite of fear, it's true. But hope isn't just a big soft hand that lifts you onto a fluffy carefree cloud, far above the whirring blades of despair. Hope is an invitation, whether the hearty roar of a fired-up crowd or just a sexy whisper from the universe, to leave the dreary confines of one's grey cell of detachment. To come out and play. Hope will ring the doorbell, but you've got to drag your sorry ass outside.
I am 43 years old. During the sweltering, chaotic summer of my birth, three extraordinary kids drove down to Mississippi to stand up for a more inclusive vision of democracy. The loyal exemplars of traditional values, fine Christians all and fiercely protective of their local heritage, repaid the efforts of these hopeful Americans with a fusillade of bullets. The martyrdom of this trio fell hard on two California Jews who were soon expecting their third child, the one who'd later be tasked with the four questions at the Passover table. They gave me Andrew as a middle name, in honor of Andrew Goodman, a young Jew who sacrificed everything to extend the blessings of liberty.
I wasn't quite four years old when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Once again, the hopes of forward-thinking, open-hearted people were shadowed with anguish. And what followed might fairly be called forty years in the desert.
And in the decades since, so much destruction. So much betrayal. So much enslavement to triviality. In such a world, isn't hoping for better just a burden? Let's just hide in the bunker, catch up on some TiVo'd triviality and gird ourselves against the wicked, wasteful world with a Costco-sized supply of contemptuous wisecracks.
But then, wouldn't you know it, the doorbell rings.
Maybe you saw this video of a fantastic poem by an incredibly promising young writer/performer. It moved and delighted me because it cut to the heart of this dilemma I've been kvetching about. Here's the part of the Passover story I'm focused on this year: Getting the hell out of the desert, and how seriously scary that is. How much easier it would be to stay in Egypt, to be gangsta-hard and stylishly cynical, rather than make the long, hot, sweaty, hopeful trek. How tough it is to believe that the angry red sea of the status quo will give way for us, no matter how resolutely we march. But also about how impossible it is, when hope rings the doorbell, to pretend you're not home.
Have a beautiful, meaningful Pesach. On this potentially liberating holiday, I greet you with all of my tenderly, tentatively hopeful heart.