The Jewish holiday of Purim just passed. Purim is a happy holiday. Literally, the observance of Purim includes giving and receiving food gifts (mishloach manot), eating a festive meal, dressing up in costume, and getting drunk.
I expected that Purim this year would be kind of lousy given the Coronavirus pandemic. It wasn’t all bad and, in fact, some things were an improvement. JTS’s live-streamed “Purim Off Broadway” was awesome! Not being pressured to read Megillah (Book of Esther) was amazing! (I am proficient at and enjoy reading Torah and Haftarah, but I don’t know Megillah trope well and don’t have interest or bandwidth to learn; unfortunately, in non-COVID years, everyone assumes I am happy to read Megillah) Not seeing my peers-turned-parents and their children was also a bonus, given my feelings on the matter.
But there was a lot about that was lacking this year. I could not find the energy or motivation to bake hamentashen (traditional cookie for the holiday). I couldn’t find any motivation or interest in putting together mishloach manot and handing them out. I never bothered with a costume. I didn’t go to a morning Megillah reading because I had meetings. Drinking was just going to give me a hangover I couldn’t afford on a workday. I didn’t bother with a seudah (festive meal). It just seemed stupid to bother when you have only two people who can barely tolerate each other and who have conflicting work schedules.
A lot of my lack of celebration was due to being swamped with work. Who has time to do any of this when “working from home” means working 24/7? But the truth is that if I had cared enough, I could have made the time. My job is such that if I had wanted to, and if I provided some notice, I could have blocked my calendar or even taken the day off, and my coworkers would have respected it. I just didn’t care, especially in a year when Purim was going to be so lackluster.
I remember when Purim was a really fun holiday. Huge costume parties. Large festive seudah at the Rabbi’s house with drunken dvrei Torah (I even gave an awesome one last year!), great food, and tons of people.
Actually, the more I think about it, pretty much all of my happiest Shabbat and holiday experiences involve lots of people. I like large Shabbat dinners (even the few times I hosted, I preferred hosting a large group of guests at a time, albeit infrequently). Raucous Shabbat onegs. Spirited singing of tefillot or zmirot with a crowd. Spirited Torah discussions over a potluck Shabbat dinner. Lighting the menorah in public, or at a family Chanuka gathering. Big Simchat Torah dancing party. Group meal in the sukkah.
I never realized how much of an extrovert I really was, but I suppose that’s the case outside of Judaism too. Sure, I could sing in my shower, but I’d much rather sing in public and draw energy from a crowd (of drunk people at karaoke because I’m not talented enough to sing anywhere else). Sure, nothing stops me from dancing in my apartment, but I’d much rather dance in a club or a wedding reception or a group Zumba class. Even writing – I could have just as easily started a private journal, but instead, I chose a public blog.
A lot people would say, But at least you’re not single. You have a husband. Isn’t that enough?
For a while, it was. Celebrating the holidays while basking in the glow a new relationship – yeah, it was amazing. Making out by the light of the Chanukah candles. Sleeping together in the sukkah was awesome (no, not that kind of sleeping together – it was my in-laws’ sukkah and by definition, we were in public.) Snuggly Shabbat naps. Purim – drunk, costumed, gloriously happy – that was a lot of fun (yes, that kind of fun ;). The halcyon days of a young relationship.
Even outside of exploiting the Jewish calendar for our romantic benefit, we were both the kind of extroverts people who thrived in Big Party Judaism. We brought tons of food to your huge Shabbat potluck. We brought dvar Torah discussion ice breakers to the table. We danced hard at your wedding. We brought the party. We magnified the energy of the party. We were the party.
Of course, it takes energy to create a party. Someone has to provide the space, the food, and more importantly, the initial spark of energy.
What I realize now is I never really had any internal energy. Husband didn’t either. It was one of the many unconscious lies we told each other. Husband made himself out to be a go-getter, someone who enjoyed making plans, going out, and having fun, being social, someone who was a good partner, who wanted to be a good father. I sold myself as energized about Judaism, and as a not materialistic, not superficial, not competitive, not judgmental person who saw the good in people. Maybe we were telling the truth at the time, but we both changed and became terrible people and the combination made each of us even more terrible, and that’s where we are now. But I digress.
Neither of us had that internal spark. And the halcyon period ended and the new relationship glow burned to ash, unable to reignite a passion. We might have been able to reflect the light like a disco ball, but neither of us possessed any internal light energy.
When you don’t have the light, the spark, the joy of the holiday, you wind up with just the drudgery of the preparations. It’s not “Yay, Sukkot is coming, I can’t wait!” but “Ugh, I have to build a sukkah, take off work, make up work, etc.” It’s not, “Yay, the seder is going to be so much fun!” but “Ugh, Pesach is coming, I’m screwed.” (Pesach involves a lot of cleaning and kashering prep work.) It’s not “Yay, Purim. We get to bake hamentashen” but “I have to hear megillah, I have to do this this this…” That’s what happens when you don’t have the excitement or inspiration. “Get to” becomes “have to”.
Some of this is just the nature of being an adult. Of course a holiday is better when you get all of the fun and none of the adulting work to make it happen. This is why it’s nice to have children. In teaching them about the holidays, in doing the “get to” fun observances of the holiday, you also get to enjoy the magic yourself along, even while doing all of the “have to” work. And even when your children grow up, you still get to enjoy holidays reinvigorated by their company. Or so it appears. I don’t have children and likely never will.
I have a new appreciation for people who are single celebrating holidays, creating holiday the atmosphere on their own. I never realized how much of an extrovert I really was before the pandemic. It wasn’t just that I thrived with an audience, but that I fell apart completely in the absence of one.
Forget making a nice Shabbat dinner. Forget sending cards or mishloach manot to people. I couldn’t even find the motivation to brush my hair, take a shower, or wear deodorant if I wasn’t going out to see anyone. Forget creating my own light or reflecting the light of other people; I was so broken I couldn’t pick myself up off the floor.
On Purim, we wear costumes and masks. There’s also an idea around removing the masks and revealing our true selves.
I feel like I’m wearing a mask, although I can’t tell how convincing it is. There are still friends who seem to believe it. They think I’m celebrating Shabbat, celebrating Purim, having a normal marriage, managing. I look at myself in the mirror and I can’t tell whether my coworkers have picked up on the dirty shirt I’ve worn multiple nonconsecutive times, my tangled hair, the dark circles under my eyes over the Teams calls. Maybe they have, but I looked ugly before the pandemic too, so maybe they haven’t. I’ve never had a pretty face or been good-looking, to be honest. And yeah, of course I could wear makeup. That’s what I used to do. It’s just gotten harder to care.