Saturday, April 11, 2009

Passover or Pass Out: Decisions, Decisions

We observed the first night of Passover last Wednesday by having a seder at the home of my childhood friend, Jack. Though Jack has moved to LA, he returns nearly ever year to have this nice family-oriented (vs. synagogue-oriented) holiday at home. Jack's parents are both deaf, and Jack and his brother interpret for us when we can't figure out what's happening. My sign vocabulary includes the numbers 1-10, the alphabet, and about ten words (which include the names of the swimming strokes, which is generally not useful during dinner).

There are lots of nice things about Passover and many silly ones. Participating in traditions which have been happening for over 5000 years is generally cool, but Manischewitz wine is really nasty stuff. You are supposed to drink four cups of this stuff during the meal. We settle for four sips at the appropriate times. Jack and his family actually PREFER this winelike beverage, when there are actually wonderful kosher wines available -- even a winery in Napa. We start the meal with bowls of matzah ball soup. And that reminds me of a joke:

A Texan non-Jew came to New York for the first time, having never tasted Jewish food. On the recommendation of a friend, he went to the Lower East Side to eat at a real Jewish restaurant. He looked at a menu, but everything on it was strange and new and he simply didn't know what to order. When the waitress came, he pointed to a dish on another table and asked what it was.

The waitress replied, "That's matzo-balls".

"OK," said the Texan, "I'll have that."

He got his dish, and was finishing it with relish when the waitress came back again. He looked up and said: "Ma'am, that was truly delicious. I never had anything like this before. Tell me, do you serve any other parts of the matza?"

Seders generally go on and on and on, with the story of Passover read collectively in a booklet called a haggadah. There are songs, prayers, even questions to discuss, all relating to the departure from Egypt of the Israelites.

The hard part this year was that the first night of Passover was on a Wednesday. Seders are most commonly held on the first night of Passover (or several nights, if you can take it) and the next day was a work day for me. Getting home at 9:30 and then herding the family to bed (one bathroom for all of us) meant that I didn't get to sleep until almost 10:30.

I was wiped out the next day at work. I feel so lucky that my students come when they're tired because it really is almost inhuman to wake up that early day after day. And I know that many of my students are tired all the time. I have new parents, insomniacs, people who work late, students with homework, shift workers, and even problem-free people who just want to see a little TV.

When I was training hard and that alarm used to go off four mornings a week at 4:30 a.m. it was just as hard. Now this is my job, people depend on me, and I feel completely dedicated to not letting my morning crowd down. Back then it was just my decision, the coach and the other swimmers on my team would be there with or without me. I started calling 4:30 a.m. my "Championship Moment." Answering that call was what made me a champion, regardless of the effort I put out that morning in workout.

As a swimmer I was almost overwhelmed with worries around Taper Time, the immediate couple of weeks before the season's "big" meet. I worried about my preparation, my mental toughness, the pain-to-be, the fit of my suit, the timing of the events, what to pack and eat, how much sleep I could get in before I left, the weather, disappointing my coach, everything. But having had my "Championship Moment" and pushing through that always gave me comfort.

I thought about that when I woke up on the night after the Seder. It wasn't exactly the same circumstances, but it helped. If it's true that 99 percent of life is just showing up, it is even more work for those of us who have to show up before dawn.