As I think I mentioned at the beginning of this journal, Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday. That’s because my grandparents have a huge Seder dinner, and everybody comes. Family comes (aunts, uncles, and first cousins, and second cousins, and third cousins twice removed), and friends come, and friends of friends come.
Over the years, the Seders have gotten so large that my grandmother had to have extra leaves made for the dining room table in order to accommodate everyone. In fact, the Seder table is so long that the dining room can’t hold it anymore. It goes right through the entryway, and into the living room.
It’s really unbelievable how many people come to my non-religious grandparents’ house every year to celebrate a religious holiday. But, what’s even more unbelievable is how many of them aren’t even Jewish.
People of all races and religions sit around my grandparents’ Passover table. And, since there is always at least one person who has never been to a Seder before (and because there are always so many young people at the table), my grandfather’s service is always very easy to follow (and easy to comprehend). It’s not serious and boring (and never-ending), the way that many Seders are (at least according to my friends). My grandparents’ Seders are fun.
We follow the Haggadah, the way that you’re supposed to. But, they’re special Haggadahs, written specifically for kids. And, even though we go through the required Seder rituals, my grandfather always incorporates a lot of singing, and joking, and storytelling into the service as well.
And I usually have a blast. But, this year…well…this year it was OK (I guess).
I love my relatives. I really do. Not the passionate, enchanting, infatuating kind of love that you read about in all those silly, predictable teen romance books that my girlfriends like so much (I can plow through one of those books in less than an hour), or the gothic romance novels that you find in drugstores (next to the potato chips and shaving cream). When I say that I love my aunts, or my uncles, or my cousins, what I mean is that I have a great affection for them. The kind of affection that people feel when they have a shared connection (kind of the way a person might love a favorite teacher, or an old babysitter).
We are bonded to one another – either because we have the same blood swirling through us, or because one of us happens to be married to a blood relation. And, whether or not we bond with one other (whether or not we’d choose to be friends with one another if we weren’t all related), we all love one other.
Like, for instance, even though I feel closer to my sixteen-year-old cousin Jordan (who still hangs out with me even though he’s in high school, and who makes me laugh so hard that I practically pee in my pants the minute that he opens his mouth) than I do to his thirteen-year-old sister, Jennifer (who doesn’t seem to care about anything but boys and clothes – two of the most boring topics on the face of the earth), I love them both, because they are both my cousins. And because that’s the way that families work.
But, as much as I love my relatives, for some reason I just could not stand being around any of them at this year’s Seder. No even Jordan. I just wanted them all to leave me alone.
Because the entire evening I kept getting this really disturbing vibe from the whole bunch of them. A vibe that I’d never felt before. One that I’ll never forget.
Maybe it has something to do with my epiphany. It’s made me very sensitive the last few months (in case you hadn’t noticed). I tend to see things that I might never have been aware of otherwise. Hidden feelings. Unspoken thoughts.
Like that giant cloud of pity that hung over Ellen’s mother the morning that I accidentally read Ellen’s note to Rose, for instance. I’ve seen that cloud draped over the shoulders of lots of other people since then. Not my family members so much (although I did see it hovering faintly over my Great Aunt Esther once or twice the other day). However, just because my relatives don’t pity me, doesn’t mean that they weren’t acting weird.
I don’t know if it’s a new phenomenon, or if it’s been happening ever since my mother died and I just never noticed it before, but when I looked into the faces of my extended family at the Seder the other night, I saw the strangest expression in the shadows of their eyes. It was almost as if they weren’t seeing me when they looked at me. It was as if they were seeing my mother in my place.
No matter what the conversation of the moment happened to be – it could have been about the weather, or the evening news, or about my grandmother’s matzoh ball soup – my relatives kept finding new ways to bring my mother’s name into the dialogue. They couldn’t stop commenting on how much I look like my mother…and how much I act like my mother…and how much I remind them all of my mother.
And, it really, really annoyed me. And, it made me really, really uncomfortable. Because, for one thing, you only need to look at a family picture to see that I am a female version of my father (I’ve got his nose, and his eyes – the shape, not the color – and his round face). And, for another, I AM NOT MY MOTHER. I am ME, Sophie Green.
It’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world without having to live up to some distorted, foggy memory of what another person was (or was thought to be).
My mother was such a nice person – such a good person – that she’s kind of been elevated to the position of “Saint” by those who knew her. I, myself, have contributed to the glorification of my mother’s memory on occasion.
But, the thing is, I’m no saint! I lie sometimes. And I think bad thoughts. And I do stupid things (even though I don’t necessarily want to, or intend to do them). And, I’m just not cut out for the job of replacing someone truly good, who’s truly dead – even if it makes other people feel better to think of me in this way.
The whole time I was at my grandparents’ house, every time one of my relatives compared me to my mother I wanted to scream, “What do you want from me? Do you want me to die like her too? Will that prove your point?” (See? I told you that I wasn’t good enough to be my mother’s clone.)