April 9, 1998
The passenger seat is piled high with unopenedjunk mail, while empty water bottles roll around the floor among thegum wrappers and ATM receipts. The scent of stale tobacco wafts upfrom the ashtray so bursting with cigarette butts that it won'tclose. I've taken to writing directions on Post-Its, which now dotthe dashboard like yellow Band-Aids.
It is a vision of chaos.
And that's why I look forward to Passover, maybemore than any of the Jewish holidays. I may travel to a seder in amess of my own making but I arrive to perfect and ancientorder.
Some say cars reflect their owners, that they aresome sort of representation of how we travel through life. I don'tappreciate this interpretation but neither can I deny it. I lack theability to organize the details of my life. I always have. I was thekid who slaved over her book report only to turn it in with aspaghetti sauce thumb print on the cover.
There are people whose lives are effortlesslyorganized. They employ elaborate filing systems and always have asupply of stamps on hand. They have personalized thank-you cards andusually own a vacuum cleaner. They write recipes on index cards. Theyare another species to me, other-worldly creatures I can only admirefrom afar, as distant from me as a supermodel or NBA center.
So when I, generally the youngest at the table,ask "Why is this night different from all other nights?" I have myown reasons.
For one thing, this evening I'm not defrosting aPizza Pocket and eating it off a pan lid so as to avoid washing oneof the stack of dishes that I keep piled in a teetering sculptureabove the sink.
No matter where I am, or who is kind enough tohave me, Passover provides a welcome respite from my habitualdissolution. There is order. There are the same four questions, thesame four glasses of wine, the same 10 plagues, the same songs andstories.
Every year, whether at the home of relatives orfriends or strangers, there is a sameness. It appears, as comfortingand familiar as a poem's refrain. For a moment, I am part ofsomething that dwarfs the job I did or didn't get, the fact that Ihaven't done my taxes, the fact that my last oil change was duringthe Reagan years, the heavy weight of a million scattereddetails.
I am not from a very religious family. My earliestseders were abbreviated affairs, always cut short by my grandfathersaying, "Dayenuwith all these prayers. Let's eat already. I'm Hungarian."
My brother and I never understood why beingHungarian made my grandfather so hungry, but we giggled at that everyyear. And I'm sure he said it just to make us laugh. It was one ofour own odd little family traditions, the repetition of which gave usa sense of order even in our less than devout Passover service. Aritual is a ritual.
For me, still less than totally observant, rulescreate order even in the breaking of them. I, for example, can'tresist the siren song of the bread product for long. Around daythree, I usually break. Still, I have something to break against, andthat gives me more structure than I usually have.
Maybe this isn't what Passover is supposed to beabout. I should be thinking about freedom from slavery. Perhaps, inmy own small way, I am.
So this Passover, I will have my customary eveningof externally imposed order. There will quite possibly be a clothnapkin involved. I will be free of the meaningless minutiae that tendto clog my world, eclipsing at times what truly has meaning. Then, Iwill stroll out to my car, with its bumper held on by a bungee cord,and drive off into the night, wondering if I'm ever going to get thatoil change.
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomethingcontributing writer for The Jewish Journal.