Friday night saw me seated at a long table in the suburban South Jersey home of my friends Lisa and Gamell. A white table cloth covered the new dining room table that was being used for the first time for this auspicious holiday gathering. Family of origin and of choice gathered around and I felt honored to be on the guest list. Some of these folks, I have known for more than 20 years and some I just laid eyes and hugs on then. I glanced at the decorations and laughed at some of the items…toys, actually. I asked Gamliel what they were for and laughed when he said “Take a closer look, what are they?” A toy frog, a bottle of theatrical blood, a little person-figure cut out of bubble wrap among them. “Oh, the ten plagues!” The bubble wrap cleverly was representative of boils that were inflicted on the Egyptians for not heeding Moses’ plea to ‘let his people go.’ A joke about that is also what many Passover-observant Jews call out, since a weeklong diet of matzah can be, shall we say, a bit binding.
Fluent in Hebrew, Gamliel masterfully led the service that was attended by a multi-national, interfaith crowd. We took turns reading and singing in Hebrew and English, participating in this age old ritual of the retelling of the story of Exodus during which Jews fled the oppression of slavery to freedom. We spoke also about places in the world where people are enslaved to this day and where oppression is historically masked and/or re-written. We shared food ritually at first, blessing it at each turn with gratitude for being able to partake together. After the service part of dinner (seder translates in Hebrew to the word ‘order’ meaning that it is done in a particular linear structure), we were nourished by a gourmet feast that included salmon, roasted veggies, sweet potato kugel (boasting a bit here, since my self taught chef son Adam made that delight), matzah ball soup, a lasagna-like dish that was made with matzah instead of noodles, layered with eggplant, followed by fresh fruit, chocolate covered matzah and other assorted sweet treats.
At the end of the evening, I headed over to my friends Phil and Janet’s home to sleep since I had a meeting with a couple the next day whose wedding I will be officiating this summer. They live on the New Jersey side of the river, so it made sense to stay local rather than driving back to Pennsylvania. I was so glad to be greeted in the parking lot of their complex by Phil and their four legged ‘boyz’, Bananas and Dodger who were out for their pre-slumber potty break. Before they tucked me in for the night, we were talking about the seder from which they had just returned and then musing about a tv special they had watched this week that portrayed the ten plagues as natural occurrences, such as the blood in the water being red algae and the darkness as a sand storm that covered the view of the sun and the parting of the Red Sea being caused by wind that created a trench. When it all came down to it, apparently someone on the show asked who it was that created these phenomenon in the first place, so it wasn’t dissing the miraculous aspects of the events.
The next morning, before heading out in our various directions, we sat in Phil and Janet’s meditation room for a time of contemplation, spiritual reading and meditation. Phil called the dogs in to join us, since that is part of their daily practice too. Dodger trotted in and Bananas was a wee bit late in arriving, so I went out into the living room and scooped him up. Eclectic in their spiritual practice, Janet read from a volume by Mark Nepo called The Book of Awakening and the passage was about refraining from allowing others to be the arbiter of our worthiness…one of my self-imposed plagues, for sure. She then shared something from A Course in Miracles which was the catalyst for our meeting in the early 1980’s. Phil led us through a guided meditation in which we were standing in the center of a circle of loved ones from all times of our lives. Into the midst walked Jesus who emanated the energy of love and light and one by one, each person showed that face as well and became that Christ essence and then as we gazed into a mirror, saw that in ourselves. Powerful stuff. The room in which we sat was the size of a large walk in closet and is overflowing with books, plants, wind chimes, a stone filled water fountain, tapestries, paintings created by Janet, a few poems I wrote for them over the years, statues, drums, crystals and images of their spiritual teachers including Jesus and Yogananda. By the time I left the room, I was floating.
I treasure my relationship with these two, since we are not ‘like family’, rather, we ARE family. Phil is my son’s ‘unofficial Big Brother’ since they adopted each other when Adam was 14 and he is his go-to guy for all the stuff that he just can’t talk to his well intentioned mom about. They are amazingly resilient people who have faced the darkness of suicidal thought and as a result, support others in courageously pulling the covers off the stigma of depression. Peer specialists, educators and organizers of Suicide Anonymous 12 step groups, they lead full rich lives and exemplify recovery; Janet also, justifiably proudly claiming more than 25 years of sobriety. Their relationship is a testament to the spiritual work they do each day, which includes spoken appreciation for the not-so-little-little things they do for each other. They truly model the idea of love in action. They teach professionals and the community in general in their work with Creative Communication Builders.
After my meeting with the wedding couple, who also embody that sense of devotion, which I witnessed as we planted the seeds for their ceremony, I made one last stop prior to going home; lunch with my chef in training niece Rachael who was home on Spring break from Johnson and Wales where she is in her third year. Her plan upon graduation is to open her own restaurant. I have watched her mature dramatically in the last year, stepping up as an adult to assist in the midst of some daunting challenges in her immediate family. My sister has come to count on her strength to bolster her. We Weinstein women learned from a master…my mother, about ways to do what needs to be done.
Each of these encounters with loved ones, shows me how abundant my life is, how I have the choice at every turn to step out of self imposed limitations to the true freedom to BE from moment to moment, the work of he(art) that I came here to embody.
http://youtu.be/ugzCSigEcCc Going To A Seder by The Shlomones