Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Incompetent Traveler and other updates,

including hatred of polytheists

Brendan flew unaccompanied to Detroit on March 27. Older sister Julie met him at Detroit Metro where they laid over for some six hours before catching a plane to Seattle. It must have been about midnight, maybe 1 a.m., east coast time when they finally landed. Older brother Nate met them at the airport and wisked them to the Seattle home he shares with partner Nikki. Cousin Abraham and partner Irina where there, also, having flown up from San Francisco to spend 48 hours or so in cousin adventures.

While Brendan was away, Marrianne and I planned to play. But sisters Dale and Teri, brother Mark and various nieces and nephews planned for a Pesach seder at Mom's house; given that this might be Mom's last Passover, it made sense to go, even if it would tear a chunk out of the time available for Marrianne and I to do fun and loving things. So, at Julie's instruction, I went to Priceline to seek an affordable roundtrip ticket to Chicago and back. It worked--going early Monday a.m., returning mid-day Wednesday would cost just over $200, a deal at today's prices.

Marrianne and I did squeeze in a date on Sunday night, but I had to get up at 3:00 a.m. on Monday to catch the Super Shuttle to the airport for my six o'clock flight (Metro trains don't start running until 5:00 a.m., that wouldn't get me to the airport and through security in time for my flight). Everything worked pretty decently except for discovering after I reached the airport dreadfully early that my flight wasn't Monday at six, it was Tuesday at six. My bad.

There was a time in Chicago when people would ride the Blue Line out to O'Hare to sit in the observation lounge and watch planes taking off and landing. The golden age of aviation, you know. Pan American Airways to the Orient. Good stuff. Brother Mark used to take son Abraham out there for a visual fix on wide open airport spaces and the wild blue yonder. It wasn't so much like that last Monday at Washington National. More like sleepy, droopy people, closed kiosks and stores and the dark before dawn. There was a Starbucks open to kill a little time until the Metro opened and provided a cheaper way home. And there was the astonished looks and dropped jaws of those around me who shared in the news that I had arrived at the airport the day before my flight. He looks normal, they were thinking, but maybe he's dangerous, or bad luck, anyhow.

When I got home, I put in a little time on a longer poem I'm working on, but mostly I was a sleepy, droopy shell of a man. A sleepy, droopy shell who knew he needed to get up at 3:00 a.m. the next day, also, so that he might get to the airport on time. I really wanted to get to the airport on time. And, after a quiet evening at home on Monday night, arrived on time.

Passover is the most universal of Jewish holidays, I think. It involves eating, it involves ritual that honors those who gather around the table, it reminds us of captivity and celebrates both liberation and fidelity to an ethical understanding of the world. It also teaches us a complete disregard for a fact-based understanding of history in favor of stories and legends that evolved to serve the institutional goals of a religious faith with which I have a complicated relationship.

Personally, my preference, above all, is for the commandment to remember when we were slaves in Egypt. In light of that memory, the Jewish declaration of "never again" after the Holocaust, should more appropriately be "never again to anyone, anywhere, including Palestinians. I recognize, though, that among American Jews there is a decided bias towards "next year in Jerusalem," rather than the remembering when we were slaves in Egypt thing. It is with some satisfaction that I note that African-Americans, by and large, see the Exodus story as having little to do with Jerusalem and more to do with slavery, which is one of the reasons for the universal appeal of Passover--that, and the fact that Jesus' last party with his posse was a Passover seder.

Anyway, since about 200-300 AD, the real underlying motivation for the seder, at least according to the learned rabbis of the period, is the commandment that the story of the Exodus and the rescue by God, working through Moses, of the Jewish people must be told every year to the children. This commandment was honored in detail by brother Mark, who planned and conducted a 45-minute seder which captured and maintained the interest of the very youngest cousins (going on 4- and 5-years-old) in attendance. Manu and Ollie, the sons of niece Stacy (mark's stepdaughter), knew their own parts (the Four Questions, as well as other bits of info Mark had rehearsed with them, visibly and actively anticipated the moments for direct participation, and hurled themselves in the most full-bodied way into the ceremony, delivering both questions and answers with awesomely good timing.

It should be noted that while Manu and Ollie participated with great maturity, most Epton family seders, at least since Dad's death and even before, border on chaos because of the behavior of Teri, Dale and I. OK, maybe, mostly me. All I know is, they get really loud and Mark, who always leads the seders because he's the serious one, obstinately soldiers on. Julie called during the seder because she and Brendan and Nate were thinking about Mom (Grandmother, as she is always called). I put the phone down next to Mom so they could hear what Grandmother was hearing. For her part, Mom was pretty much ignoring the chaos, smiling benignly at Mark and radiating affection for the better behaved, especially Manu and Ollie and Ethan, her one and, to date, only great-grandchild. I don't know how long the Seattle connection stayed open, but they probably heard Mark patiently leading and me bellowing. (Mom always used to say things like, "Jeffrey, stop bellowing," which, of course, I always saw as unfair until one day in San Francisco, during a champagne breakfast following the San Francisco Marathon, someone at another table turned to me to ask, "would you please stop bellowing?" at which point I yelled out "Mom!" and things deteriorated from there--but that's another story.)

Of course, there was an extra wine poured for Elijah, that stiff-necked prophet-warrior from about 700 BCE, the time of stiffest competition between polytheism and the monotheistic God of the children of Israel. I had hoped to be on the seder agenda, so I could do my pedantic best to remind everyone that we were slaves in Egypt and ought to recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people, as well as tweak Elijah for his awful intolerance in regard to Jezebel who, as Phoenician princesses married to kings of Israel go, was not really so bad. At least not compared to Elijah, that rabblerouser who stirred up the Jewish hoi polloi, inciting them to murder 450 priests of Baal, the god of rain and sweet water, and a personal favorite of Jezebel's. Sure Jez was hot for Elijah's blood after that incident, but her murderous rage arguably paled next to Elijah's (and the one God's) hatred of polytheists. The longer poem I've been working on incidentally, is an attempt to resurrect Jezebel and cast a critical eye on Elijah.

Regardless, I probably could have injected myself into the seder anyway, but I was so impressed with what Mark had done, I restrained myself. It was a grand seder. Mark led with grace and competence and Dale cooked everything and did a wonderful job. Unfortunately, most Eptons don't care much about food--Audrey (Mom), Teri, Mark and I, at least--so Dale's efforts had to be appreciated more by in-laws who have a more balanced understanding of the role food plays in life than by her own siblings. Still, most of the rest of us do clean up after meals decently well.

Left Chicago on Wednesday. Brendan returned to DC on Thursday and Marrianne's mom (Audrey M., as opposed to my mom, Audrey E.) arrived the same day to spend the long Easter weekend with us. Between picking up everyone at their various arrival points and making other preparations, I didn't get back to the business of blogging, at all. And not for the next four days (through yesterday).

On Saturday, I called Mom (Audrey E.) to see how she was doing. Not so good, she seemed incoherent. On Sunday, she was suffering a lot of headache pain, so Teri took her to the hospital where they tested her for everything, but suspected a stroke or bleeding on the brain. As it turned out, it was neither one. She had a bladder infection, which frequently causes disorientation and temporary memory loss in other women. Though we all recognize that Mom may not have a lot of time left, it was very scary to talk to her and not have the conversation make any sense. But Monday she was better, released from the hospital with the infection under control, even though there's still no explanation for her severe headache pain.

Monday afternoon, I drove Audrey M. to meet one of her nieces living in the area, who would later get her on the bus back to Pittsburgh. It was a good visit, full of meal preparation and eating and easy conversation. And by the time I got home, the word from Chicago was that Mom was home and watching the White Sox Opening Day game. Mark Buerhle threw seven shut out innings, Paul Knoerko homered in the first and the White Sox won.

Mom says she's getting a lot of lunch and dinner invitations from friends. She jokes that they all think she's going to die soon and want to see her before she gets too weak. But she's not going anywhere, she claims, as long at the White Sox have a shot at winning it all. Most years that fantasy is pretty much finished by mid-July, but White Sox pitching is looking pretty strong. If the hitters come through, I think this is going to be a good year in Chicago.

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