An Unhappy Post About A Happy Holiday

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.

We were the party. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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.

Self-portrait: Sad, light-less disco ball. Photo by Nick Willsher from FreeImages

***

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.

A more accurate self-portrait. Image by 412designs from Pixabay

***

On Purim, we wear costumes and masks. There’s also an idea around removing the masks and revealing our true selves.

Another self-portrait. Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

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.

33 comments

  1. First, I don’t think you’re a terrible person! And it’s also OK to be an extrovert. You write as if being an extrovert is bad, especially one without the inner spark. You’ve shared before about having depression, and that might be part at least of what’s driving your lack of energy and enthusiasm. Depression will do that to you, suck the life out of you. Yom Tov is hard if you’re lonely and depressed (believe me, I know), and Purim is harder than most.

    I understand the masked feeling too. I think one of the advantages of blogging is that it allows you to be truthful about yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for understanding. It’s not that being an extrovert is bad; more that I had admired the inner spark people and it was an exercise in self-awareness to realize that I was not am not one of them.

      It is interesting that we are commanded to be happy and joyful on Yom Tov. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It definitely is a challenge.
        I’ve also always found it just interesting/odd to have days where we are commanded to be happy and days where we are commanded to be more sad/mournful. I think because I find there is always something else in the background. For example, my Hebrew birthday is also my grandfather’s yahrzeit and it’s also a fast day. In spite of the sad/mourning atmosphere of the fast and the yahrzeit, I found it a weirdly happy day because I was very into the Chassidic idea of giving out blessings to people on my Hebrew birthday, which meant I usually got lots of lovely blessings back in response.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry to hear this. One of the few things I enjoyed with my ex was celebrating the Jewish holidays, especially because of our children’s excitement over them. But then he lost interest in everything, much as you describe here. After we split and the girls moved away, I stopped caring about the holidays unless I can be with my daughters. I hope you can find a way to enjoy them again, maybe without your husband…

    Liked by 2 people

    • It does make such a difference when you are celebrating with beloved family members, in this case, your daughters.

      I was fantasizing about spending Passover solo, actually. Things are getting better since I wrote this and I am starting to look more forward to 2nd pandemic Passover as a couple.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ” 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?”
    That makes a difference, and it saps your energy.
    And, JYP, you are not a bad person. You grew, and you learned more about yourself, your partner, and about life. This happens to good people, because you are paying attention and you care.
    And caring is what is hard, and makes life hard. You care about the really important things, and you think about them, which is not easy to do, especially in this situation. So you are being, imho, a very good human being, and I really appreciate your being here.
    Stay safe,
    -Shira

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. I hesitate to fully blame work, as it isn’t that I’m necessarily doing work 24/7. My work-related to-do list (job, online course that I’m audited for this certification exam, and job-hunting) could be 24/7, but I do more procrastinating and stressing out than actual work 😉 But still, it makes it hard to focus on the joy of the holiday.

      And thank you. I’m still in the “presenting myself as a likeable person on my blog stage” of blogging. I may not be a truly bad person, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a selfish side, a materialistic side, a judgmental side, etc. I appreciate you being here, Shira!

      Liked by 1 person

      • But, JYP, we all have a selfish, materialistic, judgemental (especially me on the J of INTJ) side of ourselves. Some just show those traits in different ways. I feel extremely selfish in that I’d love to be recognized for the work I did when I taught at the Continuing Ed, so I selfishly posted all of my lesson plans, when I could try to go back and teach classes instead of living on my savings until I have no other choice. I feel like a materialistic person every time I eat meat, and use my savings a bit faster than I ought to, and I feel judgmental, well, most of the time. I hate smokers every time I feel my throat ache and cough on some whif of smoke, and I find myself cursing each and every person who smokes pot and wakes me up with the smell coming through my drafty window in my room at 4am. Now I feel bad, since I know that many people smoke that garbage for anxiety, which I use meditation and Tai Chi (and a good dose of foul language when that fails) to control, instead. I know that some of them are very nice people, yet I wish ill upon them every time I cannot breath due to some random person’s smoke. Hence, I often feel like a bad person, but I still do the best I can, and you, I believe, JYP, are doing the same. That makes you a good person, imho. Me, I’m just trying not to become an axe murderess! LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wanting to be recognized for your own work isn’t selfish at all! (Stealing someone else’s work is perhaps, but wanting credit and recognition for your own is just normal). My frivolous spending goes well beyond just eating meat (although I do that too. I enjoy many vegan foods and I also enjoy meat. Quite a bit.) At least you have a good reason for judging smokers because of the the impact to you with their secondhand smoke. I am the rare non-smoker who actually likes the smell of cigarette and pot smoke, but I know most non-smokers can’t stand it. I judge the heck out of my peers who do totally innocuous things because I am competitive, petty and jealous. I think you have lofty goals well beyond merely not becoming an axe murderess!

        Liked by 1 person

      • 🙂 Thank you for your very kind words, JYP, but the fact that you aspire to more is what makes you a good person, and me, well, I just do what I do to avoid other temptations!
        🙂

        (and yes, got rid of my sword collection years ago…)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. you’ll recapture that sparkle: you’re an extrovert — you will find your way; I remember, after our breakup, how i dreaded public holidays when everyone would be out in couples or groups celebrating 🙂 but I’m finding my was now out of the funk 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. My understanding has been (and who knows if it’s right) extroverts get energy from being with other people. Introverts get energy from time alone. So maybe in thinking you don’t have the spark, what you’re actually experiencing is lack of time among your friends, gaining energy. Maybe no one extrovert “has the spark” but rather they spark off each other. I feel so privileged to live in Australia where COVID19 has been relatively minimal. I really feel for you and the cooped up life you’re leading. It’s not normal and, as an extrovert, it’s likely unsurprising that you lack energy and motivation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s funny because pre-COVID, I’m not sure I would have described myself as an extrovert. Some days I felt more introverted; some days more extroverted. It’s really only a realization that I had now when I don’t have the other people to bounce energy off of. It’s an interesting idea that maybe no one has this internal spark and we’re all sharing each others. I am happy that things are better in Australia.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Aw yeah. Working from home does do away with the commute, but you actually spend all that extra time working, lol. I too have been finding a sweet spot between needing to get work done and just living my life. Not as easy as I’d have thought. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is a bit dishonest to say that I’m working 24/7. The work day has crept to 10-12 hours perhaps. I don’t like my job enough to really be working 24/7. My commute was terrible, but I would rather be commuting than working from home continually. The convenience is nice for a bit, but it gets old really fast.

      Like

  7. This feels like a really honest if not vulnerable post about some difficult feelings. I can relate so much to how holidays (Catholic not Jewish) feel at first more exciting with a partner and then worse, and also the glow of marriage turning into…I don’t know…a problem. But you do truly sound like an extrovert and so you owe yourself some kindness. Covid has been especially hard on extroverts since extroverts get their energy from socialising where and people like me – oh so very introverted- get their energy from being alone. And if your husband is the same then it’s no wonder your relationship is struggling – two people without their usual source of motivation and invigoration stuck home together.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s eye-opening because I honestly never realized how much of an extrovert I was until the pandemic. And you are spot on about the holidays and marriage changing over time.
      Our relationship has other issues in addition to just being stuck at home, to be honest, but there are bright spots.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Personally, the Jewish month of Adar is one of my most difficult ones. I guess I’m a rebel of sorts, when I’m told to be happy my mind just goes haywire. 🙂
    I hope you are able to find the internal strength and happiness – it’s so powerful when it comes from the inside. It doesn’t make external circumstances any better, but it just changes the entire perspective, and thus the entire experience.
    May the mask on the outside reflect the internal awesomeness on the inside very soon! (Which would obliterate the need for a mask, but just go with it 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this. It is kind of odd how we are commanded to have a specific emotion. I actually feel the tension more on some of the sad days (my Hebrew birthday is the same day as a fast day and the same day as my Grandfather’s yahrzeit) I really would like to be one of those people who have that internal energy.

      Like

  9. You wrote: ‘And yeah, of course I could wear makeup. That’s what I used to do. It’s just gotten harder to care.’
    I agree. When I go out, I wonder what’s the point of fixing myself up. I’m wearing a mask. Who’s going to see me? On the other hand, this covid will eventually be a blurry memory , just when I don’t know.
    As for Purim, I think the shuls have taken a lot of the fun out of it. It used to be lots of folks would give mishloach manot to one another. We used to have a blast doing this. Now, the shuls have their own fundraisers where they give out the Purim baskets so fewer people are doing it. Oh well…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I certainly hope I’ll find reason to fix myself up (I am on video for Teams/Zoom calls, but this hasn’t been much of a motivator yet…) but I’ll admit that the longer COVID lasts, the less temporary it feels….
      I hear you re: mishloach manot. I don’t mind the shul fundraiser mishloach manot. It is convenient and an easy way to support the shul. But there is also something fun about going around town giving out mishloach manot, although I just couldn’t find the energy for it this year.

      Like

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