I’m stuck. I’ve been running around my home, from room to room, cleaning, organizing, and yes, looking for chametz. I filled bags with stuff to give away and throw away, and I got rid of all of our expired medications. I’m slowly finishing off the bread and homemade delicacies left in my freezer and I’m plowing through the last bags of pasta and boxes of cereal in the pantry. I had been on a good schedule and was moving ahead at an efficient pace. But now I stopped. Short. I’m up to the point of cleaning out the closet. The upper closet in my room is the storage warehouse of my memories. Through the keepsakes set aside from various experiences and periods of my life that line my shelves, I’m able to see, hear, touch, and at times, even smell days gone by. All I have to do is open the door and the memories come gushing out like gusts of gale winds, transporting me back in time.
I’m a sentimental one, so I save a lot of memorabilia. Among other things, my shelves are filled with carefree letters of my youth, autograph books, graduation tassels, calendars that record the details of many years of my life, the notebook filled with pertinent information used for planning my wedding, diaries, response cards from my wedding, audio-recordings of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, drawings my children made for my mother a”h when she was hospitalized towards the end of her life, and condolence cards I received when my parents passed away. I am well aware that I really don’t have to clean this particular closet for Pesach. There is no chametz there. But once a year I like to surround myself with mementos that make me feel as though my relatives who have passed away are sitting right next to me, showering me with unconditional love. As it’s my father’s 28th yahrtzeit this week, this practice is particularly poignant for me at this time.
So, I sit on my bed, with rapt attention, poring over old photos and letters. I am oblivious to the ticking of the Pesach clock, engrossed in my thoughts and feelings. Some of the letters are very interesting, as they reflect the reality of a different era. My parents wrote to me about their escapades using their CB, a citizen’s band radio that travelers once used in order to be in contact with other drivers on the road. It was always a thrill to be in touch with other frum travelers. “Breaker 1/9.” “10-4, Good Buddy!” Does anyone remember that? Some letters came with a surprise inside. A $5 bill - a windfall of spending money. My great-grandmother would also send me $5 to give to tzedaka. Other letters informed me of milestones of friends and relatives. This one got engaged to a nice shomer shabbos boy (an expression I haven’t heard in years). Another one had a baby. Yet, another one graduated and entered law school. As I read the letters, I feel a peculiar sense of omniscience knowing what the future brought. I know what became of the baby when he or she grew up and raised a beautiful family of his/or her own. I know that the law student became a top-notch lawyer, well-respected in the field. Unfortunately, I also know of sad things that happened that nobody would have ever dreamed of at the time the letters were written.
Besides going back in time on a personal level, I also enjoy returning to the good old days on a global level. I don’t need to look at my mementos to realize how much the world has changed, but something about my letters brings those changes into a much sharper focus. The entire art of letter-writing is in itself a relic of the past. In the letters that my parents z”l wrote to me when I spent the year studying in seminary in Israel, they wrote a lot about the letters themselves. They wrote of when they had received my last letter and how happy it made them. They told me who was the courier of the letter I was reading, how they had to rush to write the letter so that they could bring it to the messenger in time. They often asked me to send them stamps - yes, the kind we would put on envelopes before dropping them into the mailbox. They also wrote on aerograms. There is something about taking out a pen, writing a letter from the heart, and making an effort to get the letter to its destination. Such a letter conveys a sense of warmth that seems to me to be missing from today’s instant messaging. When I was in seminary, after morning classes, all of the girls would run with bated breath to the secretary on the way to the dining room to check if they got mail. This was one of the highlights of the day. Sometimes the mail would come late and the secretary didn’t want to have to tell that to so many girls, so she would put up a sign stating that the mail didn’t arrive yet. We girls would have to wait in anticipation a little while longer. It’s nothing like this today. There is no anticipation and not much warmth. Many messages are quick and impersonal. People even make condolence calls via messaging.
I know there are definitely advantages to today’s messaging system. When I went to seminary, my parents had to call El AL to make sure I arrived in Israel safe and sound. This sort of thing is no longer necessary. Everything we need to know is accessible by a simple click. We can disseminate information to the other side of the globe with ease. Now we can have much more frequent (maybe too frequent?) contact to keep track of our loved ones. We can more easily be aware of the needs of others and then offer help more quickly. There’s no question that this way of communication is extremely convenient. But I still miss the slower pace that allows us to savor our interactions, as well as the more personal touch that builds genuine closeness.
Time does move quickly these days, and Pesach is right around the corner. I guess I’d better break my reverie and get back to the task at hand. Until next year…
Chag kasher v’sameach!