Tuesday, April 17, 2007


In the days after September 11, 2001, we went through it. The checking up on friends--have you heard from...? oh he's ok...? but have you heard from...? One name kept coming up, after everyone else had been heard from, accounted for, checked off. We never heard from Maurita Tam. Concert choir was devastated. We had been on tour with her the year before, with her quick smile and her kind words and unexpected laugh. On Thursday it rained, and there was a memorial service. We sang one of the tour songs for Maurita, and for everyone else who died on that shaken day, and then we retired the song from our repertoire. It has been running through my head since events at Virginia Tech began to unfold yesterday, when students were asking those same questions, and there were those eerily familiar scenes of university students boldly showing emotion and coming together to share a pain so utterly unassociated with bright college days. The song has been running through my head, all day. It helps, somehow.

"Enosh kekhatsir yamav..."
(As for man, his days are like grass...)
(Psalm 103:15-18)

Friday, April 6, 2007

Happy Self-Denial-Ritual Season!

It's an odd year.

As always, Passover and Easter are close on each others' heels, and conversations about keeping Kosher and fasting on Good Friday have hit the blogosphere right on schedule. Yet it seems this year nobody's actually doing any observing. It's a killer week in the semester--midterms to take, midterms to grade, degree qualifying exams, theses all but due. I have a friend who's intensely dieting and can't afford to cut anything more out of her daily caloric intake. Myself, I'm coming down with something and, while I'm abstaining from the chicken soup, I'm still going to stuff myself with everything else my body needs to fight off the ick.

My first reaction to all this would be to observe that fasting and keeping Kosher are ways of making us very aware of what we eat and grateful for it, and making us slow down and reflect on, to put it the clich├ęd way, the important things in life, putting everything else into perspective. What are we missing by saying that our diet, our schoolwork, our common colds, are excuses not to do these things? Aren't they those less-important-things-in-life that a day of fasting is supposed to remind us are less important to begin with? The ritual of fasting, like any other ritual (see sociologists Victor Turner and Mary Douglas), is supposed to change the state of our being in some way. We're refusing to be changed this year.

But on the other hand, the number of reflective conversations I've had with (myself and) other non-observers might indicate the contrary. We're all clearly thinking about fasting, food, tradition, reflection, and what's important in our lives. The awareness is still there, precisely because of the fact that we're making the decision to still eat leavened bread or food on Friday. Maybe in some way not participating in a ritual that we know exists is a ritual in itself.