On the way to work, there was a bright orange sign that read, “Uneven Road.” This was followed by three identical “Bump” signs.
Wisdom has noted that “there are signs everywhere.” As we navigate through these pandemic times, such signs have a profound significance. Today, our individual and collective equilibrium has been subjected to an uneven road, fraught with uncertainty and discomfort. Our sense of safety and well-being seems to hit regular bumps.
The aging population, in particular, has been acutely affected by the ramifications of COVID-19. My colleagues in the field of geriatrics bear witness to their numerous vulnerabilities. Some seniors are managing recent societal changes with ease. They reflect upon having lived through other epidemics, wars and generational shifts. Others are experiencing heightened anxieties and bouts of sadness.
This is understandable. They may be reminded of past traumas and losses. They may fear financial ruin. They may struggle with separation from loved ones. They may experience powerlessness due to the stress of prevailing restrictions. They may see plans and dreams for their golden years as tarnished because control over their future is diminished.
Indeed, the road these past few months has been uneven.
Passover of 2020 (or 5780, according to the Hebrew calendar) was passed over. So was Easter and Ramadan, all major holy days among Abrahamic traditions.
More bumps. The roar of these pandemic times drowned out many customary ways of celebrating and replaced them with new and necessary, social-distance-appropriate, watered-down alternatives. There were Zoom seders, solo seders and nothing-at-all seders for Passover. “May all who are hungry come and eat!” is the ancient refrain of our favorite festival. Yet this year that wasn’t possible in the usual, historic sense. We missed what we have known and cherished.
With holy days adversely affected by COVID-19, the core narratives of our respective religious groups remain challenged. Our global community grapples with how to worship and celebrate differently. Faith and fear face off in an ongoing battle that may shape religious expressions for years.
We know the Passover story has many themes within it. One of the most powerful is hidden within the Hebrew name for Egypt. It isn’t Egypt at all. Rather, it is Mitzrayim, which means “narrow spaces.” The birth canal for the Hebrews to become one people, Am Yisrael — the nation of Israel — was Mitzrayim.
The way was hard, and the labor pains lasted 40 years in the wilderness. There, lack was met by abundant complaints. Covenant with an unseen God collided with more tangible beliefs, and hope for the future emerged with a new language, a new order. In fact, “seder” means “order.”
Remember that our ancient traditions have endured through epic famines, wars and other pandemics. COVID-19 is not humanity’s first test of faith, nor will it be the last. Our elders still have wisdom, even as we shelter in place. There are people who genuinely still care about other people, regardless of the circumstances. Pandemics will not extinguish the enduring qualities of humanity.
With patience and forbearance, loneliness and isolation will be replaced by meaningful gathering. We will see each other with new eyes; hear each other with new ears; enjoy each other in new ways, just as our ancestors did, as they emerged from Mitzrayim.
Let poet William Wordsworth’s imagery of radiant “golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” serve as signs, accompanying our re-entry into the joy and responsibility of prevailing freedoms, reinvigorating what matters most in any age: life and love. JN
Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.