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Passing thoughts on Passover

This weekend marks the beginning of Passover ( written last week ), but when my mind ruminates over the week, it is peppered by certain landmines. There is the unexpected passing of purple Prince and my sister’s mother-in-law, yet also the Queen’s 90th birthday and how we will be remembered. Watching the queen age over time from the slim attractive spritely ingénue to the well turned out dowager, I chortle at the formal portrait eclipsed by her granddaughter holding her purse. “ Granny, can I please hold your purse?” Time works its ravages. Yet Elizabeth II endures to oversee children and grandchildren. Can anyone ask for more?

My children feel I am lately maudlin and depressing, particularly in my blogs, but it is difficult to stand at this point in my life and view all that has unfolded behind, me as the protagonist in a landscape that has been so altered in almost 70 years of living. We, the boomers who would always gyrate or sway to the songs of our youth, flowers in our hair, beads jangling at our waists who would never fall to the ways of our own parents. But of course, we did and do, as time is the great leveler.

 I was always fascinated by TS. Eliot. As early as high school, we studied The Wasteland and later, it was these words in Burnt Norton of The Four Quartets that informed many papers I wrote,

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

 

The subject of time pondered by poets and prophets and philosophers. It moves like a thief: we do not see it, but feel its impact on all things human and constructed. In ways, it softens the edges of grief and helps us endure the hard times. We say, If we can only get through this day, then…It also provides us with the support of memories that endure as bulwarks , for example, of Passovers past.

Passover, the food and the grand seder meal all combine to resurrect memories. When my son, Jordan, was little, he politely confronted my father, asking if we might do the seder in English. My father in his rust-coloured sweater pondered for maybe a minute before saying, “No”. It would proceed as always. Today we use both languages, sometimes whipping through the program, but still pausing in the parts that are central: as we spill the wine for the 10 plagues; or loudly proclaiming” Daienyu- it’s enough all ready”, we proclaim together. Let the troubles end, we’ve sustained enough. Just move on-

 

As a child I remember the service going on interminably as I waited to be released to play and tumble with my cousins after dinner. The best was a dun-coloured raisin wine concocted by my grandmother in her basement for the event. She sat in the kitchen while we ate, sucking on chicken bones, her duties that began and concluded with the food. No Cuisinart or freezing, just lots of chopping/hucking, mincing, preparing that no doubt fostered her desire to sit quietly by herself outside the voices that rose and fell over the eternal service. No welcoming smile or loving hand, a person enclosed in herself. As I do Rosh Hashana dinner, and even with the advent of all the modern technologies to aid in cooking the meal, I now comprehend her exhaustion and desire to just decompress with her aching bones in a chair.

 

Yet my own mother, dead on her feet, was always present at these celebrations, a smart scarf at her neck and attempt made to “ dress up.” And she did not complain of the laborious hours spent – so that my sister and I would find something trivial to complain about until my father would eventually bark, “ Can’t you two ever get along?’

 

Only at the first seder after my father’s  death, was my mother seated, a guest at the seder, quiet, alone, in the sea of voices. My younger daughter for some reason that night stood to hauntingly sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and my son whispered, “ I miss him so much”. We were all stuck in her erry voice connected through time to my father’s missing presence.

 

As well at my mother’s last seder, my older daughter warmly and comfortingly curved to my mother, explaining where we were in the service, an interchange with Baba that evoked a slow smile from her precious face. These snippets of memories during those times together are set in my consciousness as I recreate and visualize my family, the ambiance of those nights.

 

Over the years, I heard of people at Passover who created tents in their living rooms to pretend they were traveling in the desert. Others insisted on placing something like an orange on the seder plate: one of these things is not like the others- to underline difference. Above all, the Passover story is about freedoms. I lovingly laugh at the play my grandson created for his playmates in which a mouse refuses to continue to be oppressed. He proclaims to his fellow mouselets, they can kill us, but at least we will be free. Echoes of Sunday morning Hebrew school perhaps?

 

This put me in mind of my teaching of the Post-colonial literature course and the book I sometimes taught “Imagining Argentina,” an award-winning novel by Lawrence Thornton. It dramatizes the Dirty War in 1970s Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the military government abducted anyone who opposed its tyrannical rule. We talked about the March of the Grandmothers in Plaza del Mayo and I showed my students the heartbreaking film, The Official Story. I used much the same line as my grandson. Stories are the same, no matter the culture, the place, the time.

 

Life is so much a mix of opposites with the bittersweet reminisces that remain and enliven our lives. As I look out towards my yard, it is gray and gloomy and raining and yet a robin just flew towards my window and the ducks who visit every year made a brief appearance yesterday: omens that spring is not far. So hopefully I can soon regain my sunnier outlook. Mea culpa, kids.

The coming of spring and beginnings

Sitting before me in a white clay pot is an- about- to- bud hyacinth, moss surrounding the emerging leaves. It is the promise of spring and although purchased as a small gift, I cannot part with it. It is so precious, a cone opening with its pointed green leaves that are sheltering a nest of compacted buds. I wonder what colour will eventually erupt. Purple or white are my favourites, but blue or pink will also be fine.
I’m not sure if it the advent of a new beginning with the burst of the colours of flowers, the renewal of the feeling of the sun on my shoulders and the dropping of my winter coats to the back of the cupboard, or whether it is spiritual, emotional or physical reclamation: likely all. How can one simple plant make such a difference?
This week my daughter made a difference. The online video is attached here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-KrJxhkHto&sns=em .She and three other women spoke out in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania against the anti-abortion law. Then she followed up in a written article in The Elephant Journal. Addressing the issues through her own personal story, her public disclosures had to have cost her as they resurrected her loss, sad and terrible, one that she lives with constantly. However, she was determined to voice her perspective, honestly, earnestly with the hope that other mothers would at least be afforded the option she had. And her voice made a diffetence: as the governor did not support the bill. “This legislation would be a step back for women,” Wolf said at the press conference. “This legislation would be a huge step back for Pennsylvania. If this legislation reaches my desk, I will veto it.”

How do we get through the traumas of life?

First, we must breath. In and out, mechanically and take a step. Not simple.
I remember when my father died and I was torn by two opposing options. One to scrub him from my memory because thinking of him opened me to the fact he was gone and we could never address issues that had piqued me, such as my being too sensitive, that he favoured my sister, etc., etc…The other was to saturate myself with remembering the good times we did share, to relive the love that had passed between us on special times. Immerse myself in memories or banish them completely. One direction as painful as the other.
So I was stuck. To not move is also a decision, proclaim our Existential friends. None of this is easy. We think too much, we bury what we cannot confront. A friend whose parents were holocaust survivors explained the heavy burden she carried on her back. Tormented, she finally found that witnessing the stories of others whose experiences coalesced with her own helped. She said she didn’t know when, but suddenly she felt lighter, her backpack of pain lifted, and she could move on. And it is true, our emotions can be stones that weigh down our bodies, impacting what we do and how we behave.

The Mark Epstein book, The Trauma of Everyday Life, says we must first move through them. We are as Tennyson’s Ulysses reflected,

 …a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world…

Apart and part of all we have been, building into our psyches details, events, traumas and more so it is no surprise that our souls are filled, our human outlines fleshed out by all the accumulating phenomenon that sticks or becomes stuck to us.

I often joke, I am a bit like Teflon pot, some things sticking, others sliding away. And why is it that some sear us, other bounce and slide off our personal frying pans. In the matters of the heart, in terms of caring deeply, we do not easily slough off the arrows, the darts, the burning sensations with which life often provokes and brands us.
We are a cooked dish of flavours that is triggered by our senses: a piquant smell, the colour of a rose in bloom, the touch of fabric- all eliciting and triggering something we believed buried, bridging us in our contemporary setting to unfulfilled dreams, dark caves and unexpected memories of the soul. Although one’s mind cannot be in two places at once, we do layer experience upon experience and wrap ourselves in the past, good, bad or indifferent: for those events that have somehow pierced us and remain in our heads and hearts, although locked away, they may resurrect themselves unbidden and unexpectedly. I wonder, why this and not that? Why do I remember losing my mother’s hand in Eaton’s? And not my father gathering me to him in hug very often?

Our selective minds are usually reinforced by the happiest or saddest moments in our lives. It would be impossible to carry all the days in our heads equally. Perhaps it is a good thing that we cannot consciously carry it all around with us, and only the high and low give us pause to recount our days.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-KrJxhkHto&sns=em

   

Time and Nao

Yesterday Cathy Tile’s presentation concerned a book by Ruth Ozeki called For the Time Being about a Japanese-American girl named ironically enough Nao ( Now???!). There are actually two stories, one concerning Nao who is a bullied, depressed adolescent who contemplates suicide; and, Ruth living on an island in B.C, the other narrator who happens upon a Hello Kitty lunchbox by the water and is desperate in trying to discover if she can alter/ save/ prevent Nao’s plans. The time lines of Nao and Ruth do not coalesce as Ruth attempts to find out when Nao packed up her lunchbox and how it might have arrived on the shores of BC from Japan.

It is a troubling tale that raises many issues: bullying, displacement, suicide, loneliness, personal and professional success and failure in life. The disorienting factor, however, is time lie and how Ozeki manipulates the reader to believe that Ruth might actually be able to find and save Nao. Time loses its meaning in a linear fashion, expanding and contracting, shaped by our, Ruth’s and Nao’s emotions, pulling all of us into a tangle or a large soup within which we float.

Ruth, herself, does not really draw us in; she is the stooped woman we see wearing a cardigan in a checkout line, eyes focused on the ground to avoid interaction. Nao is the changeling, part Californian- part Japanese searching for friendship but isolated and taunted for her difference and inability to succeed in school and fit in. Her solace comes from her great grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun who leads by example, espouses peace and provides Nao with a summer of escape from the abuse of her schoolmates. We learn of Nao’s kamikaze uncle who preferred suicide rather than participate in war, her father who suffers because he will not permit his software to be used for killing : all junctures of great stress . And we have Ruth- the writer- who incorporates these lives, these times into her own time, making them part of her own story and altering the course of their trajectories to suggest different resolutions to the endings of these narratives. ( As we perhaps we wish we could, too).

My friend Anne corelated connections with Ian McEwan’s Atonement where time shifts to alter the story: making me think, if only we, too could unwind the narratives of our days and, like old video tapes, slice off parts we did not like, re jumble and change the outcomes of events. I recall watching the plane crashing of 9/11 and thinking for a second, this is only a show on tape. Let’s rewind it and erase it; it’s not real. Cathy Tile briefly referred to Atkinson’s Life after Life, also a play on “what if” the character’s life followed one path then shifted to a second to reveal diverse outcomes. I reflect too on Robert Frost’s Roads Not Taken and how important the choice made a crucial moments is.

I too thought of TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton I ,“Time present and time past. Are both perhaps present in time future. And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present.

And as we read Ruth’s thoughts, all of the past does become our present. It is for me, a deeply disturbing book, not one easily read. There is much dislocation as both Ruth and Nao grapple with their own stories, trying to establish identities and find places for themselves .It makes one aware of how difficult, even day to day existence can be for ordinary people like Ruth the writer and Nao the school girl.

Jiko the grandmother stands outside of time, calm, unjudging, beaming with a kind of truth that encompasses a godlike understanding and acceptance. I suppose Ruth’s manipulation of the story suggests we can take stories into our own hands and make them better, providing more positive outcomes. This is of course the role of imagination: to light the way out of the darkness of life, yet what is saddening is the back drop of others, the people who make war, make life hideous for little girls, and pilots who would prefer to soar not be forced to shoot. Instead of being able to go about our daily life, smell the flowers and smile openly, our refuge must be in the darkness of our heads where we can choose to write and improve the tale, concocting a better kinder story.

Time especially as we age is a topic we ruminate on. Have we wasted time? What time is remaining and how we can stretch the time that remains into satisfying vignettes to assuage the notion that our time in time may dissipate at any moment. Maybe it is the cool of fall, the twist of the last leaf on the tree, the drooping flowers that remind us of this eternal fact.

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