Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
It would have been enough.
Long ago, young and in love, I sold my car to have enough money to fly from Nashville, TN where I was living at the time, out to California to take a trip with my girlfriend up the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. We drove up Highway 1 in a rented car, seeing the sights. I remember we stayed at Asilomar and the Big Sur Inn. On this one day during our trip, we pulled off the highway to view a famous rock formation just off the coast. We took a sandy road in what looked like the right direction and nearly plunged the rental car off a cliff.
After braking hard, I remember saying, “If my life had ended here today, it would have been enough.”
It would have been.
If my family and all my friends, my “tribe,” had been trapped in undeserved captivity and by some miracle we were freed, I can imagine that with my first breath of freedom I would say “This is enough.”
And later remembering that moment, I would still say it would have been enough.
So many times, it would have been enough.
“Dayenu” is a sincere expression of gratitude.
My loved ones made it through this past year. I am so thankful, even as I grieve for those who did not.
Do you remember a time this past year, when you may have said—when you did say, “That miracle that just happened, that would have been enough? Thank you.”
My wife and I have been having a struggle with our kids lately. It feels like no matter what we do to create a happy and satisfying experience for them, there is always grumbling. “How dare you give me the vanilla cupcake, when I wanted the chocolate one?” “How dare you take me to this park, when I wanted to go to that one?”
It feels like what we do for them is never enough. Then someone reminds me, they’re alive. And I will take partial credit for that. They are, very alive. Dayenu. As am I. As are you. Dayenu.
My wife is adopted. A little more than a year ago, she figured out with the help of some extra funds who her birth mother was. She reached out and they talked. They have talked on the phone, they have shared on social media, they have texted and video chatted. They have been in communication for more than a year now. What they haven’t done yet is meet in person. The conversation with her birth mother every few days is not enough. My wife wants more. I can’t blame her for that. And I wouldn’t dare say Remember a year ago or so when you were so upset that you might actually figure out who she was and she might already be dead? Gone from this world, no possibility of meeting her? I have chosen not to say that out loud.
It is clear that sometimes (often?) what is isn’t enough.
You all know I grew up Southern Baptist. What you don’t know is that the neighborhood I lived in while I was in the 8th through the 12th grade was also where most of the Jewish population in Jacksonville, Florida lived. Our house was right behind the Jewish golf club. Not too many years before we moved to that area, the Jewish folk had not been allowed to join the golf club down the boulevard from the one in front of our house, which at the time was closed and shuttered. The Jewish families bought the closed golf course. They made it into the Jewish Community Alliance, with two huge pools, lots of meeting spaces, and a fine golf course that anyone could join. I swam there.
The high school I graduated from was named for one of the many prominent Jewish families in my hometown, as was the department store where I bought my better clothes. Some of my high school buddies went to Israel to live. It was in high school where my social studies teachers made sure we knew about the Holocaust. After I graduated, I left Jacksonville for Florida State University, where I majored in religion. One of my professors wrote After Auschwitz, which was his view about how Jews might understand what in the world happened to them and their faith after the Holocaust. While he was at Florida State, Richard Rubenstein had become well known as the Jewish voice in the Death of God movement which was part of the mid-seventies. His feeling was that the God the Jews had been in covenant with since the days of Abraham was no longer in charge. That God no longer existed.
The bargain (the covenant) that God had made to protect his people if they were loyal to him was broken, no longer a reality. To deny that was to deny the Holocaust. The day-to-day existence of Jews and certainly their destiny was no longer in God’s hands. Rubenstein wasn’t necessarily an atheist, but he was sure there was no higher being to be in covenant with, or to be loyal to. God was no longer a being who made bargains.
What struck me most about Dr. Rubenstein was the dramatic, nearly theatrical lectures he gave. It was like listening to Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” expressing his disappointment, his anger towards God, only Dr. Rubenstein was expressing his feelings towards a God that was no longer there, that didn’t hear him at all.
I was aware of the paradox of his shouting and pleading with a god that was no longer God, and the tragedy of being a Jew. A Jew who knew he was a Jew and always would be, now not because of what God did or didn’t do for “his” people, but because no matter what his people endured, they would survive, only now without God.
Communal life can be defined by gratitude and grumbling, joy and sorrow, winning and losing, love and betrayal… and yet, the fabric will be stitched together again and again when torn asunder, by each of us together.
Is it enough often enough? Do you get one thing you have lived for and express gratitude even if there is no one to hear? Or do you always want more? And more, and more?
What causes us to survive is the communal life, reaching out to grasp the hands; the reach back to grasp the hands of those who remain in bondage.
To remember when we were not free, so that others may be.
These words are from the back of our hymnal, responsive reading #631, titled “Passover” from Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, MA.
What sacrifices would we make for freedom today?
What would we leave?
How far would we go? How deeply would we look within ourselves?
Our ancestors had no time to await the rising of the bread.
Yet we, who have that time, what do we do to be worthy of our precious inheritance?
We were slaves in Egypt… but now we are free.
How easy it is for us to relive the days of our bondage as we sit in the warmth and comfort of our seder.
How much harder to relieve the pain of those who live in the bitterness of slavery today.