I am not playing much music lately. There are plenty of musicians who are. I can’t bring myself to pick up the guitar most days. So I am posting some thoughts here instead.
Passover is one of the most important “teachable moments” in a religion that asks us to learn from virtually every experience the Jewish people have ever gone through.
The Haggadah, the guidebook for the Seder, instructs us to consider ourselves as having actually been enslaved in Egypt, to put ourselves in the place of our ancestors as they escaped through the parted Red Sea with unleavened bread on their backs, to actually live in that reality, as we tell our children the story and talk about the lessons we can learn from that experience. (I’m not sure we have learned all the lessons from the Passover story, maybe that’s why we are instructed to go through the exercise every year; but that is a discussion for another day.)
Reading those instructions this year, under self-quarantine in my house, with my kids “zooming” in from hundreds of miles away, it occurred to me that the plague we find ourselves in the midst of today, and the steps we have taken to protect ourselves from it, are providing us with a whole bunch of “teachable moments”.
For those of us who have lived our lives in privilege, with jobs and houses and cars and family and friends and money in the bank, it is the first time that we have experienced, even in the smallest way, the deprivations suffered routinely by so many in this country and the world.
For the first time, I have had to ask myself, what will I feed my family if the grocery shelves are bare? What will I feed us if I can’t go to the grocery store because I am immune compromised and can’t take the risk? What can I make us to eat from what I already have?
There is no equivalency between my experience and the plight of those who work two jobs yet can’t afford to feed their children three meals a day in normal times, and who are standing in long lines at food pantries now, but my experience can serve as a catalyst. In the spirit of Pesach, I have tried to put myself in the place of those who don’t have what they need, to, in a very small way, live in their reality.
I have not been in the physical presence of my children for many months. They live in different states. I expected them to be here for Pesach, but then…this. I have to live with the reality of not knowing when I will see them again, hug them again, kiss them again. This, in absolutely no way, approaches the horror of what families fleeing persecution and danger have experienced at the hands of our government, at our borders. But it does allow me a tiny glimpse of what it must be like to not know if you will ever see your child again.
In the midst of this plague, a person who is not gravely ill cannot easily access in-person medical care. A close family member fell this week, probably breaking a finger, maybe incurring a concussion, but is treating those injuries at home, because a trip to the ER is too dangerous right now. They, of course, have access to their doctor over the phone, and this is not the same as having no primary care and no access to health care at all. It does open up a window, though, that allows me to imagine what it must be like for the millions of uninsured Americans I choose not to think about most of the time.
I have my husband to keep me company in my self-isolation, but I miss my family and my friends. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and all I can think about are the ones in my family who live alone. They are lonely in normal times, but this pandemic has deprived them of any human interaction, any human touch, with no end in sight. It is not hard to put myself into that reality and it makes me cry.
So, what to do with all this insight, this empathy achieved through tiny bits of shared reality? On Passover we are commanded to tell the story, to teach our children. I have told my story here, in the hopes that it might inspire you to also think about the realities of those less fortunate.
My children are grown, so the way I choose to teach them these lessons is by example. Because of my own health issues, it does not feel safe for me to volunteer at a food bank or go to the grocery store for an elderly friend. So I am doing the only things I can. I am sewing face masks, and I am giving money to those who are doing the hard work of helping in these terrible times.
I hope you will consider joining me and making a donation to your local food bank or hospital, or any of the organizations supporting those in need at this time.