Since my mother died, Passover has been a tough time of year. The holiday was sandwiched right in the middle of the last six weeks of her life, and there’s a lot of emotion and memory attached to the weeks of preparation for the Seder. Sometimes, I wish I could skip the whole thing.
It doesn’t help that I typically take on way too much for the holiday. I’m a chozeret b’teshuva, a “returnee to the faith,” and many who become religious later in life automatically feel the need to “earn their keep” by outdoing themselves in observance. Couple that with the fact that my mother-in-law is the Jewish Martha Stewart, and you’ve got the makings of a serious inferiority complex. In an effort to make “The Perfect Passover,” I have often exhausted myself and resented everything about the holiday before it even began.
This year, however, a memory of my mother inspired me to do things differently. For weeks before every family occasion, Mom would stress about what to make. She’d write and rewrite menus, making herself crazy. And every year, I would say, “Mom, no one cares what we’re eating. We care about the company.”
“I know,” she’d say, then add another side dish to the menu.
That last Passover, Mom had to turn the reins over to me. For the sake of my sanity and the needs of my family, I had to keep things very simple – and in the end, it didn’t really matter. I remember some of what I made that year only because I wrote about it in “The Cape House”; but the memory that really stands out is of sitting around the table with my family, and my mother looking at me with pride.
With that in mind, I decided to be slow and mindful about my Passover prep this year. I would cut my priorities down to the bare minimum, with little flair. After all, what was the point of putting a holiday together for my family if I was just going to be pissed off the whole time?
Thus my Passover shopping fell to the night before the holiday. At 9 p.m., my stepdaughter and I wandered the near-empty aisles, joking around like we had all the time in the world. When we got to the checkout, there was a snafu with the register, and the cashier apologized.
“It’s all good,” I said. “No stress.”
“That’s right,” said the woman in line behind me, another store employee. “When I have tense people at my register, I tell them, ‘This is a No-Stress Lane. You want to stress, pick another lane.'”
I couldn’t have summed up my experience better. For a long time, I had thought stress was an inevitable side-effect of Passover (or life, for that matter). I thought it was a lane I was stuck in. But it turns out my stress was a choice – and I could change lanes at any time.
I grinned at the woman, my surprise guru with a nametag. “I’m stealing that.”
“Go right ahead,” she replied.
“She’s serious,” my stepdaughter said. “She’s going to write about it.”
And so I have.