Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Making Fear an Engine

This weekend I attended a Seder. Not the kind we had at my childhood home where we awkwardly stumbled through this ritual. No, this was a Seder where many read the Hebrew words with confidence and familiarity. They even knew the Hebrew version of "An Only Kid"! There were points where I felt as vermisht (Yiddish for confused) as my non-Jewish husband.

I started to describe it as a "serious" Seder, but it wasn't quite that either. We acted out the story, made up songs and haiku and limericks and laughed a lot in the process. It was a thoughtful Seder. We discussed oppression and freedom and heroes. We came with assignments. One of them was to bring one of our heroes with us. Now this was an imaginary hero, no place setting required, unlike that mystery man Elijah who actually merits a glass of his own.

I discussed this assignment with a friend and told her I didn't like the term "hero". If I were to play a game of word association, I would come up with such words as hero worship and superhero. I've never been one to idolize anyone. If there is one thing I know with certainty it is that close up we all have feet of clay. It also echoed a childhood school assignment to write about a hero where I felt that same inner resistance. I ended up writing about my mother.

Hmm, I tested the idea. Yep, still works. And so as it came my turn to speak, I introduced my mother to the room. Now I anticipated lots of traditional heroes from others, but by the time it came to me we had many imaginary mothers at the table along with some choked back tears from those who no longer had their mothers in the flesh. Some spoke of their mother giving without expectation. While that is also true of mine, the reason she is my hero is her sense of purpose, and especially her sense of purpose in the face of adversity. My mother, not unlike Moses of yore, always had a lot of fears and worries. She learned to push through them and in doing so taught me to do likewise. We have a similar makeup and from her I learned to make fear an engine, to use it for the energy to take a running leap and tackle the unknown. Now everybody's unknown is different, but fear can paralyze or energize and I am grateful I learned the latter. I thank my mother for that lesson.

When I was growing up my mother returned to college. I remember coming home from school with something I wanted to tell her only to recall in disappointment that she had a class. I also remember my follow up thought, how proud I was of her for returning to school. She decided what mattered to her and pursued it wholeheartedly. In doing so she set an example I hope to honor.

Now she is in her 80s and struggling with memory loss. But purpose remains. I've written in these pages of how she creates collage art each day. Life is harder for her, but she still seeks to live it purposefully. For that she will always be my hero.

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