What keeps us from fulfilling our promise is often what enslaves us. On the first Passover after my divorce, I realized this lesson. Passover, the Jewish holiday of freedom, celebrates the slaves leaving Egypt and making their way to the Promised Land. It’s not as if my marriage was at all enslaving. Far from it. But there was a lot of wandering ahead of me before I would find my new homeland–and truly define what my singular identity was after over a decade of being part of a “we.”
Every journey starts with leaving what is known as home, and taking a step out into the wilderness, no matter how daunting. My divorce meant that I had to leave the “home” I had been building for more than a decade. But although I had not lost my “self” completely, as a mother of three and a wife, a lot of smaller incremental changes and compromises had added up over the years, and restricted that concept of my independent self quite considerably. Starting a new life was empowering, but terrifying, too.
As Passover approached, I had decided to celebrate the holiday with a Seder, and invited 25 guests for a sit-down dinner complete with traditional food and rituals. I planned, chopped, and orchestrated around work, overcame last minute challenges from cranky kids and appliances, and somehow managed to get everything to the table.
But I overlooked one critical part: I didn’t think about who would lead the Seder. I had invited my former husband, to celebrate together for the sake of the children. But I was conflicted–should it be him or me? It was my home, formally ours. Our family, but now my event. I suppose I should step up to lead the Seder, but I realized that I told my tale through the food and the preparation, and was happy to disappear–literally and figuratively–into the kitchen. Had I done that all those previous years?
In the end, it was he who led. My first steps into the desert were definitely uncertain. It was so easy to slip in to old habits, to feel nostalgic, and, dare I say, not want to slight him in the house that we had created our family, by pretending he was just a nobody. He had been everybody to me. So I didn’t step up and lead into my new wilderness. It turned out to be my biggest regret.
That night, after everyone had gone home, and cleaning was done, and food put away, I reflected on the evening and I felt proud of what I had accomplished. I opened my home to friends. I opened my heart enough to create a night that the kids could remember.
And then I looked at the old photos. There was my Maror to make me weep. Maror are the bitter herbs we eat during the Seder to remind of the bitter time of being slaves. Those images portrayed how much we had lost after 12 years of building something together. I thought I was done feeling that way, yet it all came rushing back. But you can’t go backwards. You must cross that sea even when the waves around you seem like they can crush you in a heartbeat. I realized that night, that my wanderings were just starting, but that one day I would be to the point where I can stand on a mountain and look up at the sky and be thankful that my heart and my head is once again mine.
We all have the parts of our lives that hold us back. It can be subtle, or more overt; self- imposed, or else completely something out of our control. Moving forward is tremendously scary and takes effort. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. But there is no other option for me. Passover reminds me that even if it takes 40 years of wandering to achieve that the freedom I desire, we always have another chance to advance–to put one foot in front of the next, remind yourself of where you come from, and then make your way to fulfilling your individual promise.