Arrogance, humility, and the work to be done

We live in disturbingly puffed-up times.

I like to imagine myself among a citizenry seeking the justice that must come with the demise of arrogance: armed only with sewing needles, we advance on a gaggle of huge balloon characters (think Macy’s Thanksgiving parade). Punctured, they let out the sounds four-year-old boys like to make, then collapse into a wild heap on the pavement.

 

Alas, we are all subject to arrogance: Passover to the rescue!

As I prepare for Passover, chametz – food mixed with a leavening agent such as yeast – is a major focus. Any such food is to be separated out and removed. This calls for a close reading of labels on bottles, boxes, and cans.  Then there are the remnants, i.e. crumbs. This calls for cleaning.

This week I have dusted, washed, wiped, sponged, scrubbed, scoured, and swabbed. Sunday, the fridge. Monday, the bathroom. Tuesday, the guest room and my office. Wednesday the livingroom, diningroom, and bedroom. Thursday, the kitchen. It has been a sedentary winter, including several bouts of flu and extended weeks of recovery, so I welcome the activity, although my muscles protest.

I also trust that as I get into crevices and corners with dust-cloth and lambs-wool duster, there is an alchemical shift in my own fermented emotional and thought patterns.

And when all the work is done, there is the gift of this prayer:

All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

In other words, I make the effort I can make. And being human, the effort to rid my house and my person of all remnants of puffery must fail. And still, my effort is good enough.

Then beginning with the Seder meal, and for the next eight days, we eat matzah, which tradition calls variously “the poor man’s bread”  and “the bread of affliction.” We literally “take in” the nourishment of humility. This is not about self-abasement or groveling. Passover, after all, is about liberation, freedom from slavery. Including all the ways that we both over-inflate and under-inflate our value.

 

This hyperbolic world has such a deep need for us to be the size we are.

May we each occupy our rightful place.

May we gather around our tables, tell our stories, ponder deep questions, and praise.

Then may we together free the still-enslaved and open our gates to the uprooted.

 

More on Passover:

We are all strangers in a strange land

Passover paradox: freedom is given yet must be earned

 

What if I had the freedom to be Sara with as great abandon as that tree!

I distinctly remember the moment I recognized is-ness, the common state of all living things except us humans, for whom it remains an illusive state.  I was taking a hatha yoga class, looking out at the trees, and said to myself: that tree never questions what it is, why it is rooted where it is, or its purpose. It never questions.

What if I had the freedom to be Sara with as great abandon as that tree!

What if that freedom came with as much relaxation as effort!

To be human is to struggle with the movement of life. We try to fix life by pinning it down like a butterfly, turning it into a specimen, a dead thing. We put life on the witness stand and cross-examine it. We take our responsibilities seriously. We take ourselves seriously.

Which brings me to one antidote we rarely consider: collapse.

 

Imperative

by Sara Eisenberg

I say this to you in all kindness: collapse.

Don’t worry about rubble, dislocation,  flying dust.

 

It is just to relax,

end the exhaustion of holding

every which way,

in and up,

down and on,

that visceral tension,

those ringing nerves,

air-starved cells.

Collapse

 

into the shards of your questions and their answering wholeness,

sheltered in their feathered nest.

Smell, taste,

map them with gentle and probing touch.

Move with their quaking, aching rhythm.

Collapse,

 

sheltered there by the leaves of your shady oak,

ever undisturbed by thoughts of maple.