28 March 2010

The Daily Reckoning

They're painting the doors and floors of our apartment building, in an attempt to restore an authentic color scheme to our pre-war domicile, giving it that authentic Art Deco look.

During this transitional stage, the doors and floors look like the works in progress that they are, somewhere between what was, what is, and what will be--with the especial irony duly noted that 'what will be' will be 'what was.' At least as far as color is concerned.

In their transition from a pale green to a shiny black, the lintels have been painted partially, to test the colors, it seems; and as we have progressed to Passover Eve, I have been struck by the rather eerie feeling that not blood but paint has distinguished us all in this season, at least at this address in Brooklyn.

Do I merit being saved? Each time I enter my home, I am asking myself this question. And more than in years past, it is really spooking me, making me wonder, to a degree, what it might be like to spend the run up to Passover this way each year--paint the doors to signal your readiness for redemption. The animistic has a certain appeal, I must admit.

With difficulty, I admit to many short-comings. A half-year removed from the last season of penitence, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I have already given myself at least a year's worth of things to atone for. And so as the rain clouds give way in the next twenty-four hours to the twilight of our birth as a people, our epic journey from degradation to freedom, I wonder, yet again, why it is we keep on failing and why it is we always get another chance. I marvel at how forgiving our God is; and how forgiving those who love us are; and I also quake in terror at the possibility that one day, the Presence may not be present.

I am reading Aharon Appelfeld's most recent novel translated into English, Blooms of Darkness, and I am struck--haunted, seduced, mesmerized, is more like it--by his narrator's incisive observational eye, his capacity to grasp human suffering, and the macabre yet somehow playful nature of staring into the face of tragedy and devastation, leaving one, oddly, with a sense of hope and redemption. I wish a long, long, long life upon Aharon Appelfeld. How I will mourn him when he's gone!

Appelfeld's journey this time is deeply psychological, moving from a kind of surface, child-like naivete to a deeply troubling but illuminating set of mature conclusions about human nature, relationships, devotion and betrayal. I find it a terrifying experience to read this book, primarily because as I turn each page, I think I can sense the general narrative rhythm, yet the story deepens with such subtlety that I find myself lulled into submission, if one can propose such a thing.

Lulled into submission.

This is the post-Exodus journey that we have yet to take. We haven't left Egypt yet. But by tomorrow evening, after food and story and song and the requisite Four Cups, we will have been released from the mayhem of liberation and only then will the real work begin. A desert journey that will last forty years. And fittingly, a journey that for those born in slavery will not end in the Promised Land but will end just short--but our own sacrifices will have paved the way for others to enter. The painted doors are but a temporary accommodation for grand, as yet realized conclusion.

The very definition of humility: we strive to achieve not for ourselves but for others. This is the true liberation beyond the self and into an other, the Other.

May the idols of self-fulfillment give way to the realization best articulated by the great sage Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And yet, if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

If not now, when?

Let's make our Seders.

And let the Counting of the Omer begin. The delineated accountability. The daily reckoning.

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