Before I move forward, I should explain where I am right now and, while families gather and sit at a table for this holiday, I am sitting in an equipment room at work with the worst kind of filth on my hands. My face is stained from a black murky water that has been lying stagnant in an old steam pipe since the 1970’s. My uniform is stained with black spots and though I have cleaned my eyeglasses several times, I still cannot see anything but the streaks of dirty water that will not seem to wash off.
While other families meet and honor the holiday of Passover, I am working the standby shift and supervising different contractors, doing three different jobs, and none of them are clean or even interesting.
For now, I am removed from the sounds of loud hammering and drilling. For the moment, I am removed from noise of construction and the complaints of disagreeing construction workers. And the same as there is someplace I would rather be, there is someplace these workers would rather be too. But for now—I decided to retreat to a place of silence and reflect upon what this night meant to my family.
I have not been to a family gathering in several years. At least not the good kind. But rather than delve into the sad times or the unfortunate moments of say, hospital visits or funerals, I will account for the better memories and relive the brighter times when there were less spaces between the chairs that we set at the table.
More than the religious half of the ceremony, and more than the discussion of Egypt, or Moses, and more than the discussions about my ancestors or their slavery, and aside from the explanation of the plagues which were brought down on the people of Egypt when Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go, or other than the parting of the Red Sea, and more than the Seder plate and the six, symbolic foods on the dish, which represent the different meanings of Passover, and lastly, more than the four questions, which is always read by the youngest at the table, which was usually me, the first night of Passover meant a large family gathering.
This meant I saw cousins that I usually never saw. This meant I saw uncles and aunts that I rarely had the chance to see. Nights like this were made to bring us together—and that above any reason was enough for me to like Passover.
I did not mind the bitter herbs we ate to remind us of the bitterness our people shared in the land of Egypt. I did not mind the ceremony and I did not mind listening to my family go around the room and read from a prayer book (or Haggadah in Hebrew)
I may not have paid attention to the verses or listened much to the stories, but I did enjoy listening to the sound of my family.
When I was young, I never thought about my family being any different from how we were. I had the crazy cousins and the funny ones. I had amazing aunts and an uncle. There were friends at the table too. They might not have been blood, but they were family nonetheless. I never considered who would move away or who would stop talking to whomever for whatever reason possible.
The people I loved most; people like my Old Man, or Aunt Sondra and Uncle Alan—I never considered a day would come and they would be gone. Slowly, and over the years, my family began to shrivel in size. The older I became, the fewer we seemed. And the fewer we seemed, the less we spoke, and the less we spoke the further we seemed to spread apart.
As I write to you, I am thinking about the smell I remember from my Aunt Sondra’s kitchen. As I express this to you, I am reminded of the preparation that went into the night of Passover. It was hectic, I admit, but when everyone showed and when the food reached the tables, I forgot all of the hectic moments and I enjoyed the rare occasion of seeing my entire family, gathered together, and sitting at extended tables, as well as the kid’s tables, which is where I sat.
As I write to you, I reminisce and think about the bad kosher wine, the matzo ball soup, the chicken soup, the brisket, the gravy, and the mashed potatoes.
I remember the plates of apple pies, chocolate cakes, and cookies.
I recall the emptied coffee cups that sat beside emptied plates with the remnants of food smeared across the dish, and the overwhelming sound of “Ahh,” because everyone’s belly was so full.
What I remember most and what my favorite family tradition (I say this every year) is when everyone at the table went around the room and said what they were thankful for. I loved this part. I loved listening to my family share their gratitude and almost all of them said, “I am grateful we all had another year together.”
I don’t know if I ever said that when we went around the table. I suppose I never said this because I was too young and I suppose I thought we would always be together. I never thought a time would come, like now, when my family is so scattered and spread apart.
As I write to you, I am alone for the moment. My family has moved on. Some speak to each other, but others hold grudges, and the rifts have become too wide and the damage too irreparable. I have come to accept the differences I have with some. I have accepted the changes I needed to make by removing myself in some way, and I respect the decision of others as they moved off in their own direction. My family life is small now, but through experience, I have learned to treasure all that I have
Before I go and before I return to the work that awaits me, I would like to honor my family’s tradition, or better, I would like to honor the tradition I like best and tell you what I am grateful for. And if you’ve read this far—then you won’t mind reading a little further.
I am grateful for today because today will never happen again—and I don’t mean that negatively. I mean there will never be another today, so I will live as much as I can, see whatever I may, love, live, and laugh to the best of my ability.
I am grateful for those I speak to because tomorrow may come, and they may be gone, but I will have the memories of their smiles and I will remember their every addition to my life.
I am grateful for the life I share with you.
But right now, I am grateful for the memories I have of my family.
You would have liked our Passover dinners. You would have been welcomed too . . .
Happy Passover, folks.