The mystical last days of Passover

I was alone in Johannesburg on the 6th day of Passover, 5760 (i.e. the year 2000). It happened to be my birthday that year. I had not brought my car. I was staying in my uncle's home in Houghton, an upscale but quiet suburb where walking anywhere was out of the question. My girlfriend and I had broken up two months before. My grandmother Celia, then still living in South Africa, suggested the local amusement park. It was the last thing I felt like doing.

I called a few friends from the splendid but empty garden on my enormous, ugly, already-outdated brick of a cellphone. I wandered into the den and found some sheet music for the piano and tried sight-reading for the first time in years. I waited a couple hours and called my ex in Chicago. I played "She's Got a Way" by Billy Joel for her. She was polite about it. I was 23 and impatient and things weren't working out the way I had hoped that they would.

In the evening it was the 7th night of Passover, a holy day. I decided to accompany my religious cousin to a special meal at the home of a wise man with a long, flowing white beard. The younger men gathered round to hear lectures about Kabbalah and the coming of the Messiah. (Perhaps I am confusing the 7th and 8th nights--in my memory it remained my birthday.) A woman smoking outside voiced her frustration that the Messiah had not yet come.

I thought that was strange, but it was really no stranger than my own struggle to make expectations meet reality. I was only at the beginning of a personal journey that would change my view of the world in some fairly fundamental ways. But first I had to fail, and I had to face that failure alone, for the most part, in order to get a real sense of perspective. That Passover was pretty miserable. Nothing mystical about it, for me. But still a revelation of sorts.


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