Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week in Seven Words #9

One game after another, on tables pushed close to sunny windows. The afternoon drifts by to the sharp click of letter tiles, laughter and friendly teasing, and the magic of the mental lexicon.

charoset (חרוסת)
Apples, bananas, walnuts, and wine; dashes of cinnamon. A recipe from home, lovingly made and spread thickly on matzah.

A dozen or so turtles, sunning on rocks and logs. For several minutes they don't move; they could very well be fixtures in this man-made pond, statues carved of pale stone. But then one begins to inch up a log, its legs delicately testing out the wood. Another, who seemed as content as any of the others, suddenly lets itself drop. With a quiet splash it hits the water, where it bobs for a while in one place - as if it's stunned, and needs to get used to the stark difference between rock and water.

Wisecracks are acceptable, so are sarcasm, irony, and flippancy. Let's not talk about important things as if they're important; let's express our passions and opinions with a smirk, a wink, a shrug as if to say these things don't matter much. It's startling when someone speaks or writes with directness and feeling. It shakes us up to hear or read something passionately worded, carefully thought out, with no sly and apologetic half-smile afterwards ("Whatever, I was just kidding...") I treasure an hour spent in that armchair taking in words that are unabashedly full of purpose and poetry, words of praise, words grappling with some of life's most important matters.

In the midst of foolish worries I get distracted. Because of my distraction, I'm careless. Because of my carelessness I commit significant blunders that I did not at all anticipate; they weren't a part of my original worries. I think about these blunders and their consequences; fresh worries gnaw at me. Again, I'm distracted. Again, I slip towards carelessness. Somehow I catch myself this time, give myself a pat on the figurative shoulder ("Settle down, you've learned something, and it's not the end of the world so do please focus...") and with that the evening continues.

A couple of quiet days with only the occasional squabble. There's rain at the windows, and we're gathered in one room, which feels warmer and more homey than usual. A game of Scrabble, paging through books in the yellow light, napping on the daybed, lunching on salads and cold meats. It's a good visit all around, ending with warm words and kisses to the cheeks and forehead. For a short while I feel like I'm lifted up above the many tasks I need to complete in a month's time. These are days that restore and renew; I wish for their peace to spill over into other days.

What do I love about each Seder? There's the singing, so many beautiful songs, somehow even more beautiful because we don't all match in key, tempo, or even melody; there are some songs that also speed up towards the end, and after a few cups of wine part of the fun is feeling your tongue flail around as you try to get the words out at an acceptable pace. Then there are the stories - the main one in the Haggadah, but also others told around the table along with questions that we don't usually stop to ask on other days and jokes that are more than a few lines long and are themselves beautifully crafted tales with clever conclusions. There's also the mix of people; individuals who normally wouldn't plan to eat together are all at the same table now and discovering interesting things about each other.


John Hayes said...

What a word "chelonian" is, & what a beautiful description of turtles. Also--coincidentally or not--an overall beautiful description of the suspension of time during a holiday.

m. heart said...

I look forward to your words every week.

Lucy said...

I almost became that turtle as it hit the water!

I like 'earnestness' very much. It made me curious to know what you were reading, and also a little ashamed, knowing how I too often retreat into the safety of the wisecrack or the smirk or the sarcasm. I hope though, to be able to appreciate and respect impassioned earnestness when I meet it.

They are all beautiful as ever, and I love the details of your feasts and holidays...

HKatz said...

As always I love reading all your thoughts (and yes, I was really delighted when I first found that word for turtles and turtleishness! Turtles are such fun to observe and hold)

It made me curious to know what you were reading
It was an essay on the Hebrew month of Nisan, written by a 19th century rabbi.

knowing how I too often retreat into the safety of the wisecrack or the smirk or the sarcasm
So do I... it can also come out in my writing, but generally less in writing than when I'm talking.

Eberle said...

The companionable and drifting interaction of games is beautifully evoked in your Week.

I loved that turtle! who seemed as content as the others and then suddenly lets itself drop!

I'm glad to see words in praise of earnestness (since I myself often feel earnest but sense that this is not a very popular kind of state in general...George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte are gorgeously earnest at times, and I love them at these moments.)

Your description of Seder was compelling - I've never celebrated this, but it reminded me of Mass and the occasional celebratory get-together afterwards. I also take pleasure in the individual variations of liturgical singing or chanting (hitting the "right" note is just a marketing device, nothing of real value in itself, I said once to a friend at the Trappist Abbey in Oregon.) And I also welcome the fact that I'm brought into connection and conversation with people who would otherwise not cross my path in this intimate way, people very different than myself - and knowing that I probably seem as exotic to them as they seem to me, and seeing how we reach, tentatively, over what would "normally" be a moat of silence.

I love reading these Weeks of yours - thanks!

HKatz said...

George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte are gorgeously earnest at times
Oh, I love their writing, immersing myself in it.

And I love your observations on liturgical singing and religious gatherings. It's great how you get to connect, however tentatively, with people who strike you as quite different and "exotic".

naida said...

The passage for 'fret' is very true. If we werent worried in the first place, things would go more smoothly.