Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Water is Taught by Thirst (a Poem in My Pocket)








Water, is taught by thirst.
Land -- by the Oceans passed.
Transport -- by throe --
Peace -- by its battles told --
Love, by Memorial Mold --
Birds, by the Snow.


    --Emily Dickinson







don't forget to carry a poem with you on Thursday, April 30th! And if you feel like it, stop back again and tell me which poem you carried, I'd love to know.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sexy



I love this award. Really, really love it. Cast my way by my friend Karen (go check her out, she's sexy alright). You know how viral these awards are, and nothing is sexier than the Sexy Virus.

So, I claim it. But first, in keeping with The Rules, I have to tell five things about myself that make me sexy. You know I love to talk about myself, and I'm certainly not above throwing a compliment or two my own way, so...

1. I've got the cerebral/impetuous dichotomy down pat: I like to overthink, and I like to be in the moment. These seemingly contradictory characteristics are combustible.

2. I'm sensual: in the literal sense of the word "sensual." I love experiencing through the senses--taste, touch, smell.

3. I'm accepting: of all the many, many facets of human sexuality. Pretty much, you can't shock me. I've tried many things, enjoyed a lot of them, and am game. I think this informs who I am as a person, in other ways outside of the bedroom. You know the Smiths song "Ask"? Which goes "If there's something you'd like to try, ask me, I won't say no, how could I?" sums me up.

4. I have a sense of humor: about life, about people, and about sex. I can be serious, but too much sobriety can kill a buzz.

5. I'm imaginative: which I will leave with no further explanation.


I'm going to go out on a limb and tag these sexy bloggers with this award. If you're tagged and feel shy, well, just enjoy but don't feel obliged to spread the Sexy Virus any further. Just know I think you're sexy and so is your blog! I must add, though, thinking of the ways in which you're sexy is supremely good for the ego!

1. Savannah: She's sexy. In a well-bred, sweet, and sophisticated sort of a way. If you know her, you know exactly what I mean.

2. Emerson Marks: boyish in a good way, sporty, sexy, funny, and loves the sun. His blog will make you feel like you just got a dose of fresh outdoors. That's sexy.

3. Faycat: I love to bug my dear Faycat, and her food blog is downright sexy--the photos, the recipes, and Faycat herself.

4. Mago: the funny, brooding, intellectual Franconian with an incredible ability to navigate two languages--sexy.

5. Kylie: she is hysterically funny, womanly, and communicative. She is my very definition of sexy.

Special Mention, but Already Tagged: Jimmy Bastard. Jimmy and his blog and his hyperdrive brain and writing abilities are so freaking sexy that they need two of these. I ain't kidding.

Well, this was fun! Now back to being just a housewife...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Who Loves the Sun?



My sister and I were just discussing how much my Grandma Eva would have liked Hedgehog. Grandma was a lady of the old school, the Get Out in the Sunshine or You'll Wither Away like a Pale Talmudic Scholar school. Childhood was for running about, feyly, in the great outdoors whenever the weather permitted. A clement day without a romp in it, no matter how forced, was somehow debauched; a child indoors with her nose in a book, unprincipled...we were, needless to say, a bit of a disappointment in this regard. Hedgehog, not. She's a girl who likes, loves, needs to be outside running races with her friends.

I admit I am still prone to my earlier tendency of retiring, make that fleeing, from the guilt-inducing lovely sunshine...which is why yesterday found me in blazing sun, playing baseball in the park with a gaggle of friends older and young. And why today you'll find me in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Hedgehog and our friends, admiring the mother-f-ing cherry blossoms, picknicking, and soaking up salubrious Vitamin D.

I'd rather be indoors knitting and writing, much much much rather, but instead I shall honor Grandma Eva and Hedgehog, and get my ass out there with the energetic masses...and I'll try hard to enjoy it!

I'm not guaranteeing any result, but I'll try.


Sakura at the BBG by MacRonin47 from Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Incendiary

I have a very unfortunate personality trait, and those who know me well know that this is true: I am a dedicated contrarian. If the herd goes one direction, even sensibly outrunning a storm or heading toward nourishment, I go the other direction. If I hear of any sort of wisdom held by more than three other people, I will argue with it.

This has, over the years, not stood me in good stead. More often than not I am hoist by my own petard as a result. When my oldest friend, she of impeccable taste, tried to introduce me first to "Brideshead Revisited" and then to David Bowie, I waved a haughty hand at her. Then found myself sneaking a peak at the page, a listen to the song, and head-over-heels obsessed. How could I have argued against Waugh and Bowie? It's unthinkable. But argue I did. In later years, I have willfully ignored and disdained, and then "discovered," The White Stripes, Kitchen-Aid Mixers, french press coffee, ipods, libertarianism, "Velvet Goldmine," parenthood, Patrick O'Brian, the color pink, treadmills, and organic chicken.

During this past presidential election, I couldn't even think straight. I have no idea to this day whether or not I like Barack Obama, because I chafed so strongly at the bit of my rampantly pro-Obama milieu.

If you think it's ridiculous, I'll champion it. If you champion it, I'll question it.

A nice person would call me an iconoclast, spirited, fiery. A more truthful person might call me argumentative, mulish.

...I exaggerate but only a little...

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Am Such a Sucker for Vampires

Experiencing a complex mix of shame and delight, I watched "Twilight" this afternoon. I had been waiting for ages to see it, and the time never seemed just right. But today was rainy, and I planned my many chores so that I'd have a window of time to indulge before I had to pick Hedgie up at school.

There I was, a fully-growed up married lady, alone in my living room with this magical travesty of a chicken-hawking vehicle. With the assurance that the real live actor, Robert Pattinson aka smoldering vampire old man-boy, is 21 at least and open for business, I felt reasonably free to swoon, drool, worship, and squeal. Yes, in the privacy of my home I joined the hordes of pre-teen girls--and boys--before me and actually squealed out loud when he first makes his appearance in the high school lunchroom, and then again when he becomes overwrought from Bella's smell, again when he asks if she knows what he is and then commands her to "say it out loud."

I also wondered at the attraction. The movie, although moody and atmospheric, is oddly asexual, as many have commented, the relationship between the girl and the vampire is completely virginal. He's not even my "type," because over the years I've refined my type from skinny beautiful girlish boys to full grown men with character and something to hang onto. My real type is more bear than deer; Robert Pattinson is definitely more deer than bear.

I didn't get a chance to finish it, so had to put Hedgie to bed before I could watch the last illicit 15 minutes. I simply cannot overstate how quickly Sarge fled the scene when he caught sight of Edward putting his teeth to Bella's neck. He had a tight, disgusted expression like he'd just mistakenly opened a public bathroom door on someone. He almost literally ran downstairs as I called sweetly after his vanishing back, "But wouldn't you like to watch with me?"..."No, honey, you just enjoy!" I could hear him calling back, his voice already faint in the distance...

He's very understanding. But I digress...

No doubt about it, I'm a vampire connoisseur--from that dreadful anti-semitic Nosferatu (not without his fearful charm), to the absinthe-swilling Gary Oldman, from the kitschy night-walkers in "Omega Man" and Anne Rice's tacky rock n' roll goths to the stylish Eastern-European monsters of "Thirty Days of Night," to pasty Bill in "True Blood," and of course let us pay fond homage to the best of the lot, Bram Stoker's classic dark lover, well...I've yet to meet a vampire who didn't give me a happy little frisson.

I suppose that, in the end, it all comes back to the biting.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tapestry



You wouldn't have described me as a carefree child; instead, you might charitably have called me sensitive: I was a child who cried a lot. The sadness came not from the vicissitudes of being little so much as from a deep existentialism--why?--my genes? my Jewishness? undiagnosed depression?--I felt more than I knew even very young. That is, I felt but didn't know why I felt.

I couldn't stop the tears that would spring into my eyes at the strangest times--in synagogue, as we sang "shalom rav" together in congregation, in my grandma's house, watching my mom and her mom gossip together over the news of the day; I cried at songs I heard faintly over my parents' am/fm radio, over Mozart piano sonatas, Puff the Magic Dragon, the sound of my dad clinking his hot chocolate mug on the coffee table late at night...

My parents took me to see art, and I welled up; to hear music, and I welled up; we read poetry, and I welled up; at concerts and plays I was teary at the nearness of them, the solid feel of their arms against mine, solid but already faint, gone away from me; at holiday dinners around the family table, taking stock of all those arrayed as if in a photograph, the parents, grandparents, aunts, friends, somehow knowing they would not always be there to take stock of. I welled up at the sight of my aunt bringing the chicken in wild cherry sauce, proudly bearing the platter; at the sight of my dad's mom carrying the apricot chicken to feed us. I never realized that they too knew the temporary nature of their own existence, because grown-ups know that. They just try not to think of it too often.

One time in particular comes to mind. I was very little, I believe my sister hadn't been born yet, and my parents took me to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park to see the tapestries and walk through the lilacs. We went to the stone rooms, chilly even in spring, and saw the Hunt of the Unicorn, and before long I was crying inconsolably. I remember the horror of the Unicorn's fate, the crowding Medieval nobles and their dogs and swords, the slashes in the Unicorn's white flesh, the beautiful lady who kindly stood guard but couldn't save him (or, as I now know, was in fact the traitorous lure).

I remember sobbing, clinging to my parents' hands, my parents exchanging glances and murmuring "too scary" before they took me out into the sunny courtyard. I couldn't explain to them, through the choking sobs, that it was not the blood and swords that scared me, but the inexorable story, the Unicorn's destiny to die, like all of us someday, surrounded but alone...I was overwhelmed by the grand pictures, the stern faces and the gore, the gorgeous Unicorn, the lady in the red dress, but also seized by a sudden terrified understanding of the ephemeral, the brevity of my time and my parents' time here...

I now know how right I was to cry. But I also try to take some tiny comfort in the fact that those tapestries are still there, hanging in silence in the Cloisters, having told the same story again and again for five hundred years, and I think maybe they will continue to do so for a thousand more, if they are cared for properly and dusted and repaired and the world has not collapsed around us.

And I try very hard not to cry so much these days, because it's my time to live now and besides as I learned early, there's no end to tears once they start...


Visit the Unicorn Hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to know more about the tapestries.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shaken, Not Stirred



The other evening I had the pleasure of hanging at a wonderful grown-ups-and-children party of our dear friends, a 007 party for a turning-8-year-old. The children were given real cocktail shakers for special favors, and shown how to shake a virgin fruit-juice cocktail, and they drank and went on elaborate spy missions and played roulette while their elders had real cocktails, shaken not stirred, and ate dozens of tiny delicate delicious blinis and got tanked. There was so much laughter and good feeling all around, it was just so delicious and my Texas-worn soul is now healed again, with a couple of vodka martinis and a little love.

It did point up the fact that an occasional cocktail hour has been missing from my life...

My grandparents, even with all their flaws, knew the value of a good weekly cocktail party, where grown-ups could eat salted nuts and overindulge in liquor and smoke the cigarettes presented graciously in fine china cigarette cups and pass off-color remarks to their hearts' content, winkwink nudgenudge. The children passed the trays of hors d'oeuvres, had their cheeks pinched, and then went off to fend for themselves. That generation knew the value of a good conversation. They could hardly be called drab. I'm sure when they were in their cups, they made passes at each other, they argued about books they'd read.

I'm inspired to resurrect this tradition. It just couldn't be a bad thing, could it?

If you like, tell me your favorite cocktail.



p.s. while I'm on the subject of friendly gatherings, I just wanted to thank everyone for all the kind words during my hideous Texas sojourn. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of your response to my piteous whinging!

*photo, "Martini Time" by wickenden, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Susan Boyle and the Death of the Civilized World

I, like many many others, watched the recap of Susan Boyle wow the snarky judges on whatever that show is called--I guess it was a British version--I never watch it ever, and that's no lie--never, people.

Call me a buzz-kill, and I am. I'm about to kill the buzz. Well, only if you agree with me, I suppose.

She came out, she had a matronly air, matching dress and shoes, and a questionable hairdo, she was "homely" if our standards are plastic, she was humble and not flashy, she was "older" (if late-40s means you're a 19th century spinster).

If you watch the video, the hideous crowd of hyenas, including the judges, was sneering, mocking, laughing, and jeering. They rolled their eyes, they whispered like nasty schoolyard children. They laughed at her appearance, her "antiquated" referral to Elaine Page, her provenance as a villager, her seeming naivete, her perceived chutzpah at placing herself on a stage amidst the "sexy" hopefuls.

Well, she opened her mouth and sang, and sure, she was good. She had a very nice voice and presentation.

The judges oohed a bit, and the audience/ herd of wildebeests burst into cheering (let me hasten to add, as I don't wish to offend, I don't include you, good reader, in this tirade--your reaction to her pretty voice was I'm sure honestly come by, as you weren't there mocking her initially). They cheered and cheered, while I was still shivering in disgust. Not at Ms. Boyle, but at the resounding sound of our culture at its very very worst.

Afterwards, the judges apologized--"we were laughing at you" "you shocked us" "everyone was against you"--and then made good by their approbation.

But too little too late. The initial disrespect, the mocking, could not be undone, at least not in my eyes. I believe it was all about her physical appearance, and fine, this is show biz of some dubious sort, but what a load of phoney-baloney and yes, moral degradation and misogyny.

"You can go back to the village with your head held high, it's 3 yeses," intoned the kitschy-snarky judge. Really? She and everyone who attended her church already knew she could sing. Was the approval of this shoving mass of rude, braying jackasses really the difference between shame and self-esteem? Oh God I hope not.

Susan Boyle, congratulations, but I do wish they hadn't disrespected you so. You should've given 'em the finger, but then you would have been right down to their level.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gravity

Earth pulls us earth-ward. There is no doubt about this.

A new bicycle was waiting for Hedgehog in Texas--her first without training wheels.

I watched her father, gentle hand on her back, helping her steady. I watched her effort on the tough pedals. I watched her go...

Earth pulled her earth-ward, and she was up again. Earth pulled her earth-ward, and she was up again.

Determined, stoical in her Hedgehog way, we watched, amazed at her lightness, as she conquered the pull and captured an airy balance...

...and pedalled and pedalled...

...and was off...




Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prickly



See this ugly old cactus just sitting in a pile of craggledy, sharp rocks?

This is what I was looking at, yesterday morning near my MIL's house. I had absented me from grim "felicity" awhile, and took myself and my take-out styrofoam of bad weak Texas coffee on a walk of sorts--really I left the house in tears but we won't dwell too long on the second, or perhaps the fourth, bout of semi-public weeping in a week. Let me tell you, it was no small feat for this reviled scullery-maid to free herself from the property. The gate there is strong and tall, the code to the keypad undisclosed, the remote hand-held device hidden away in the very bowels of the MIL's secured drawer...I finally squeezed myself through the bars with supernatural effort...

What I was musing on was the question of being liked. Which I am definitely not, by my mother in law. No, the old lady does not like me. Really, I believe, she hates me. Now, why should I care? I asked myself this as I paced the long road in the hot Texas sun. I've been pondering this awful problem since I read Brian's question--why do we need people to like us? Actually, I've been thinking about myself in relation to this question for ages now, ever since I first began to articulate to myself the fact that I really do want, need, people to like me.

The fact is, not everyone will like me. I've tried to be philosophical about it. After all, it's not possible that everyone, that every single person I encounter, will like me. I would sincerely hope that my ego could take it at this point in my life.

The problem is that, when I know someone doesn't like me, it puts me in a hideous ruminating spiral of existential fidgets, and I begin to run an inventory of all the ways in which I'm not likeable: neurotic, hot-tempered, controlling, weepy, nagging, myopic, stubborn, gloomy...fuck it, I'd better not list 'em all here, this special place where I can at least try to keep up some pretense...

And there's the awful prickly feeling that comes with being disliked. In Texas, I imagine that I am the icky person my mother-in-law believes me to be. Ungracious, difficult, and irascible. I've hated myself these past ten days.

So I suppose the answer to the question of being liked or not is...although in this case, I know intellectually my MIL's dislike is without cause and foundation...I'm still immature enough to reflect the dislike back on myself...do I need people to like me so I can like me?

What a dreadful thought.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Life Was Saved by Rock n' Roll

No, really. Trapped in that mother-in-law minivan that's become our metal coffin/prison cell/cement serial killer dungeon, driving miserably for hours through Texas backroads to God knows what, seething at all the rules against lowering the windows, adjusting the air conditioning, listening to anything other than the soft-country station on the radio, talking about anything more interesting than the current state of the aquifer or local taxes or what's going up in place of the old strip mall Target...

Hedgie had her nose buried in a new Nancy Drew, chewing her Hubba Bubba contentedly, but I was about to flip the fuck out.

Sarge, sensing tether's end, handed me back my charged ipod and headphones, and suddenly it was all right!

I feel lucky that I didn't have the sort of adolescence where I had to drown my parents out with music.

But I do have to drown my MIL out.

Lost in my playlist, delightfully lost. I'm not sure if MIL was talking to me because Meg White was pounding her drums just way too loud, The Streets declaiming in thick cockney, Pete Townshend wailing on a guitar more alienated than me in Texas. I had a sudden secret 14-year-old feeling like I was sticking it to the man. Even though The Man was actually a wicked little old lady, well, I'm sure she would not have approved of my noisy music.




Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Little Egg



Every woman is born with all her eggs. This means that in a sense my daughter was born with me; that I spent my whole life carrying her, before I even knew she was a possibility. When I think of my whole long life before she came, and I feel strangely lonely, it makes me feel better now, in retrospect, to think that she was always there, waiting with me, for her dad to make her complete.

And when my daughter was born into the world outside, still and for a long time after sheltered in the paradox of the temporary, delicate, and durable egg--I could protect her and keep her to myself, from the dangers, judgments, and heartbreaks--but of course she is pecking her way out and that is as it should be--

goodbye little egg

Wah Wah Wah Part II: Literally, She Made Me Cry

You know when you're so furious that you feel like your blood is actually simmering inside you, your face is flaming, tears are shooting out of the corners of your eyes, a scream is rising in your throat? That feeling?

That was me not an hour ago, trapped in the minivan with the whole family, the MIL, and extras. Me, at the last bitter end of my tether after suffering endless digs about my parenting for the last three days.

Well, I blew. But it wasn't righteous fire and articulate take-down, it was the most shameful angry girl-weeping. I am so mad at myself for giving in like that.

The comment that did it was so mild really. MIL commented that I let my daughter have too many sweets. This from a woman who gives me the hoodoo eye if I say no to an ice cream sundae. This from a woman who stocks her house to the gunwales with cake, cookies, chocolate, lollies etc etc till it seriously resembles the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel. It's like her house is fucking made of sweets. Hedgie wouldn't eat a piece of fruit or eat a carrot for ten days if it wasn't for me interceding. But that's neither here nor there--it is a visit to grandma's after all, and what's a visit to grandma's without a nice round of sugar shock. So the comment was unfair, but who gives a shit?

For me, though, it was the limit. I started out all dignified by saying, "Now it's on, lady!" Seriously, I said that. It promised to be a real fun little round, except that immediately I started crying. No battle, just tears of defeat and an inchoate "I do the best I can--sobsob--Hedgie's awesome--sobsob--stop picking on me--sobsob" I mean it wasn't loud sobbing or anything, just the pitiful wimpy kind of silent bereft sobbing like you do when you've lost all your dignity and you know you ain't getting it back so you might as well go out with a whimper.

Anyway, Sarge defended me (good ole Sarge) and MIL patted my arm placatingly and it all blew over. But not for me, of course.

I hate like heck that poor Hedgie was trapped in the van for this, but I literally couldn't help it. Eh, she's seen me crying before. Afterwards she and I composed ourselves in Target in the tampon aisle (I knew MIL wouldn't be coming there again in this lifetime) and Hedgie just rolled her eyes and said "well, grandma was picking on you!" I still wish I'd been a better role model and just said something mild like "quit picking on me old woman." But hey, there's always tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wah Wah Wah



Am in Texas.

I wanna go home.

I think I like home better than away.

There's no coffee machine, just a weird thing with pods that I can't figure out. The bed is very very high and I feel like I'm going to fall off it. The shower water is hard and sparse and my hair looks like straw this morning. Sarge is power-napping to avoid the fray (not that I blame him). I can't drive the car because it would be a huge to-do. There are labyrinthine and Byzantine house rules that may be broken without one knowing it, at any given moment, and the repercussions are intense. I feel like I'm skulking even when I'm not.

Now I'm done complaining because it really makes me seem like an ungracious asshole, and although I'll never deny that I am, it's really a bit shameful.

I'll be back when I have something more cheerful to add.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Strategizing

This trip to the MIL's is, as always, wigging me out. I won't take this opportunity to complain too much specifically about the MIL (won't I?) because we've come to a place of reasonable peace. But I will say that she's the sort for whom nothing is ever good enough--and in the early days of my motherhood, it was my mothering that was in question. I was way too insecure to take a stand on my own behalf, and just say, "I'm the mother, and this is the way I do things." No, instead I was driven crazy between trying to assert myself on behalf of Hedgie, and then feeling embarrassed, neurotic, and apologetic. When I think about it I become super pissed off--it's almost as if she sensed my weakness in this area, and deliberately tried to do me in--if I was a paranoid person, I'd think she was almost enjoying my discomfort.

Things are a little easier now--I'm a much more seasoned parent, and then too I've learned to let go quite a bit where Hedgie is concerned.

But seriously the MIL's house is a gilded cage. It's huge, and ostensibly we have our own little wing to haunt there, but if you so much as crack a window to get some fresh air, a discreet little alarm goes off and a light lights up and then you are questioned: "Was it too hot for you? Should I put the air conditioning up a few more degrees?...did you remember to close the window when you were done?" Done with what pray tell? Done with fresh air? A breeze? A sense of personal freedom? Adult decision making? Self-actualization?

Yes, I suppose for the duration of this visit, I am done with all of those things. The earlier in the trip that I make my peace with that fact, the better off I'll be. There is no sense in chafing at the bit, trying to establish one's needs, wants, ground rules. Better just to go along, to do as one is told, to put on one's sunny face as one is kept on a very short leash, kept to a martinet-strict schedule of "fun" and activities. No lounging about, no taking in the sunshine, no going to see a matinee or driving around aimlessly enjoying the Texas spring. No. There are places to go, many many specific places, random distant family members to show Hedgie off to, lots and lots of appreciation to show.

Oh, I'm on a roll. But I'll stop here. Instead, let me strategize. What can make this visit less terrifyingly oppressive?

1. My knitting. For non-knitters, this won't seem of great import, but for the knitters out there, you know how a project in hand is worth a price above rubies. With your knitting needles you can stake your claim to your place in the universe. It speaks to a hope for a future beyond your prison sentence. Your finished project will see the light of another place, another better time. And besides, it gives you something to do so you won't go mad during the endless chatting.

I'm bringing the half-completed two pairs of socks for the sock contest, and for those times when I can't concentrate on counting stitches, I'm also bringing along a simple afghan with crochet hook.

2. My ipod. Can she really lay claim to my soul when more potent purveyors of soul-claiming have already done so? For some reason, a little listen to the Velvet Underground's "Loaded" late at night in Texas really helps.

3. My computer. With my trusty aircard, I can blog from anywhere really. I knew I had a reason for not becoming a Luddite.

4. A bottle of wine, or two or three. This is a new plan I had for this year. MIL is an outspoken teetotaler, and I think we need to wet down the dry household. Drinking in the evening. Me and Sarge. We'll blur the sharp edges together over juice tumblers of something. Or just beer--from the bottle--she hates to see a lady drinking beer from a bottle.

5. A DVD of something funny, to cackle over in our room.

6. My Judaism, clutched about me like a cloak of invisibility in this bastion of Roman Catholic (the immediate family) and Baptist (everyone else). Not that I have anything against these denominations, but I do believe that although MIL knows, Sarge's extended family has yet to understand that Hedgie and I are actually Jews. We practice it, we're really Jewish. Not just along for the ride of another faith. (I often think how jolting it will be when they receive invites to Hedgie's Bat Mitzvah). It's Passover week, and I'll be brandishing the Matzah like a machete.

7. Some sort of vintage erotica/s & m classic to review for Just a Housewife. I was thinking of doing some de Sade next. Perhaps I'll bring along my copy of "Justine."

8. A sense of humor. It tends to dry up when the plane lands in Austin. Let me hang onto it like grim death.

9. Tranquilizers.

10. I'm stuck. Any ideas out there people? Something to bring along, be it tangible or intangible, that will help me hang onto my last precious shred of sanity for the ten days of incarceration?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Angry God, Rueful God: A Homily

My family's seder plate


After the Matzah is purchased in a case of crumbly blandness, the gefillte fish, the grated horseradish ruby and pearl in their beveled glass bottles (the Reform Pesach is largely store-bought, although I know the story of my Great Uncle Sidney, weeping over the horseradish root and the grater, the grey fumes intense), the Haggadot dusted off, the ceremonial silver polished, the shankbone procured, the egg roasted, after all this and the metaphorical sweeping of the leavened crumbs, comes the Seder. Perhaps the loveliest moment in the Jewish year.

The Passover Seder, and its story book, the Haggadah, is full of drama and thrill, very potent it is:

...and this very Haggadah whispers,
"Join us...you're welcome here...you belong,
Among my pages full of smoke and blood,
Among the great and ancient tales I tell."

But no moment more potent, more tangibly fraught, than the reading of the ten plagues on Egypt.

The Haggadah tells the story of the Hebrews' freedom from slavery, and of the Exodus from Egypt. To accomplish this, God stepped in and visited these plagues, each one more horrifying and vivid than the next, on the Egyptians:

Yet, when we recite them during the reading of the Haggadah, it is done with a measure of understanding and guilt.  For God, although he accomplishes these dark and violent miracles, at the same time chastizes the Hebrews for heedless, thoughtless celebration of the vanquishing of Egypt.  In what is for me the most interesting passage in the Passover story, we are reminded that deliverance came at great cost:

"Our rabbis taught: when the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation.  God silenced them and said, 'My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?'"

So as we recite the horrible plagues, we dip our fingers in our brimful ceremonial wine cups, and drop single drops of wine on our plates, ten drops, one for each plague, that as our cup is lessened, we might be mindful of the cost of our freedom.

It is an interesting lesson: God acted on our behalf, but it is almost as if he did so with a regretful humanity; he does not allow us to celebrate the method, only the result.  Brutality was met with brutality, as sometimes it must be, but there is a lesson: we ourselves are less for having been party to it.  And to take it shockingly far, God is less for having accomplished it.  It's a powerful conundrum, and one that I think I understood at least half-way, when as a child I dipped my tiny pinky in the grape juice, ten times, intoning the grim singsong litany of plague, the voices of those at the table also tense and grim, the wine gathering at the center of our Passover china--ten drops, ten plagues, a pool of wine, or was it blood?

Those moments informed my entire belief system as an adult. That our history, both real and liturgical, is full of suffering, redemption, battle, regret. That God, though all-powerful, shares our humanity. That the God of the Jews could be both
righteous and remorseful, set an impossible task with consequence both horrible and great. That he could be angry at us, and forgive us, that we could be angry with Him and forgive him. Ten drops, two minutes each year, year after year, to examine the implications of a complex God and His complex actions. This freedom to know God as both perfect and imperfect is what has kept Him alive inside me.