The Sacred Nylabone of Now
I missed Ethan’s first baseball game of the season because I was busy preparing our Passover Seder. Standing in the kitchen peeling sweet potatoes with a dozen eggs coming to a boil on one burner and matzo ball soup simmering on another, I was beginning to simmer a bit myself. Why hadn’t the league taken Passover into account?
In truth, it isn’t unusual for Jewish holidays to be disregarded on community calendars. What did surprise me was that Ethan’s next game was scheduled for Good Friday.
“Doesn’t anyone care about the spiritual lives of families?” I wondered, lowering the flame under the eggs.
Meanwhile, I had asked our friends to come at six and had to call them back and reschedule for eight. Now I worried that everyone would be so hungry by the time they got here, we’d wind up rushing through the various prayers and rituals, and that due to bad planning on the part of the city’s recreation department, our celebration of my favorite holiday would suffer.
There is so much I look forward to about Passover. By reading together and sharing symbolic foods, we enter history, literally tasting what our ancestors went through to win freedom. There’s such poetic imagery in the telling, and the props we use give the experience that much more dimension. I also love that we’re asked to take time to acknowledge the hardships others endured in order for us to be filled with such grace.
Finally, at twenty after eight, six of us were seated around my table. It would have been seven but work commitments had kept Dan in Pennsylvania until the weekend. I found myself not just missing him, but longing for the connected feeling that comes from hosting an event like this as a couple. So far, our Seder had two strikes against it. At least Ethan, seated next to me in his Dom’s Bakery uniform, cleated feet swinging, had fared better at bat.
Our guests had, with my naïve encouragement, brought their recently adopted dog.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” my friend Dawn said as Pierre and Cindy zoomed around under our feet, growling at each other while I attempted to recite the blessing over the holiday candles.
Her son Sean asked me if he could read the first section of the Haggadah, which explains what the various foods on the Seder Plate represent.
“Sure,” I said, pleased he was interested.
He started reading in the voice of a British professor.
“Sean, let’s take this seriously,” Dawn scolded.
I entrusted the reading of the next few passages to the adults. We read as best we could over the ruckus of the dogs.
Ethan, as the youngest, recited the Four Questions. He did so in the voice of a rap artist.
Now it was my turn to scold. “Honey, please. This isn’t the time to be silly.”
Like Thanksgiving, Passover is about gratitude, but at the moment, the only thing I felt grateful for was the wine. I wondered if Dawn and her husband were just as frustrated.
“Brendan, what are you doing?” Dawn asked.
Her older son had disappeared under the table. When he reemerged, he handed me a small gnawed plastic bone.
“That’s what the dogs have been fighting over,” he said.
Anxious to keep things moving, I quickly placed it on the plate nearest to me, our Seder plate. The boys laughed at the sight of Cindy’s toy next to an actual shank bone, the symbol for the sacrificial lamb.
I found myself laughing too. It occurred to me that part of what our ancestors fought for in that desert, what they were in fact often fighting for, was their right to be themselves. This is us, I thought. Late, disjointed, loud, goofy, imperfect us.
After that I fully enjoyed our Seder. It was rare that my two-person household brimmed with so much activity. As we ate horseradish mixed with honeyed apples to represent the bitterness of slavery tempering the sweetness of freedom, the boys clowned and the dogs chased each other, adding their own spice to the blessing of breaking unleavened bread with loved ones.
Later, as I rinsed horseradish off Cindy’s bone, I thought of how this little piece of plastic worked like a talisman to bring me into the moment. I’ve read of a question rabbis sometimes ask their students. What is the most important moment in Jewish history? As crucial as the parting of the sea is to our story, that’s not it. The correct answer is Right Now.
Dan arrived on Saturday night. We planned to go to his favorite church in Manhattan for Easter services in the morning, but the first thing we did was hold our own small Seder. Ethan was at his Dad’s, as was Cindy, so it was just us, Dan’s guide dog curled peacefully at our feet. I had a braille Haggadah for Dan and we sat together reading passages aloud that we each found meaningful. Then he acted out our ritual Passover joke. Picking up a piece of matzo, he ran his fingers over the grooves. “Who wrote this mess?” he asked.
“There’s something kind of funny on the Seder plate too,” I said. Dan touched the hard boiled egg, the small piles of horseradish and sweet apples, and finally, Cindy’s bone.
He grinned. “What’s this represent?”
“That’s a very important Passover symbol,” I told him. “The Sacred Nylabone of Now.”