My first view from the window this morning: two costumed figures decorating the young trees in the yard across the street. To the branches, they attach strings hung with cut paper and foil shaped into eggs and stars. One of the figures was obviously Hermine (our neighbor to the right), but the other I didn’t recognize. Some sleuthing has since revealed it was Virginia (our neighbor to the left), who loves mischief and dressing up. This is our first Easter and Passover and Ramadan in quarantine. Like many other Jews, we cancelled our Seder weeks ago, tried to arrange a virtual Seder, met impediments, but put the word out via the Internet, and were invited to sit down with family friends, including a newborn baby, and his parents, aunt, grandmother, and great grandmother — who at 91 can still sing like an angel.
The Cloud this April hums with virtual Seders, virtual Easters, virtual gatherings for the breaking of the Ramadan fast.
Jews world over subtract from their full glass of wine the ritual drops signifying the ten plagues suffered by the Egyptians when they would not release us from servitude.
Dom: water becomes blood
Tzfardeyah: frogs overrun the land
Kinim: lice infest the people and animals
Arov: flies overrun the land
Dever: a pestilence takes down the livestock
Sh’chin: painful boils erupt on the skin
Barad: hailstorms batter the land
Arbeh: locusts decimate what’s left of crops
Choshech: darkness covers the land for three days
Makat Bechorot: in every household the firstborn child dies. Unless passed over. Unless the Angel of Death passes over.
Surely, in their flight through the desert, our ancestors must have had to entertain, distract, and otherwise attend to the children. Someone, perhaps some figure in a funny hat, may have drawn cartoons for them in the dirt. Someone may have made a crazy costume and beat a makeshift drum. Made up silly songs. In our neighborhood recently, people have placed brightly painted rocks on doorsteps, and teddy bears in windows. The children themselves have devised games in which they play with one another while keeping a whole street of space between them. We are trying not to breathe the same air, in a world in which we share our air. We are trying not to sully surfaces. We are trying to refrain from touching.
Why on other nights do we dine either sitting or reclining, but on this night we recline? I think we cannot recline. Not on this night. We cannot yet recline. We are still in flight. We can only grab and go.
Our forebearers couldn’t wait for their bread to rise, so they carried what we’ve come to call matzoh, unleavened bread. This year, we can’t get to the store to buy our boxes of matzoh, or the store can’t supply it. So we will fashion our own matzoh. How ironic! Deliberately make it ourselves, unleavened bread. We’ll look up a recipe online, make it from scratch. Or eat crackers or yeasted bread, because it happens to be on hand, on the shelf or in the freezer, we can grab it and go.
How is it I feel happy in the midst of all this grief? Is happiness, perhaps, just a form of remembering? I remember and remember and remember. The magnolia points out its fat, gray buds. I remember what they’ll do next. You turn to me in bed. The moon is almost full. A child retrieves a ball, bending, grasping. Someone is singing. The words aren’t coming clear, but the tune has the whole story.
We’re trying not to breathe, but we can’t help expelling, inhaling. We can’t help letting our breath go in waves, explosive, gentle, ever outward-moving waves. We can’t help taking in air, and you and you and you.
I walked under a white sky yesterday morning down in the meadow by Ned’s Ditch. Strolled in the after-winter colors of straw and clay and twig. The slightest whisper of green. Swamp flooded and still. Directly in my path, a turtle the size of my hand. Its appendages and head completely pulled in. To see its face, I get down on all fours. But that isn’t enough. I have to prostrate myself before it. I who do not believe.
Carol Edelstein is a poet, essayist and fiction writer, and co-founder and editor of Gallery of Readers Press. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.