It’s Tradition

“The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our innermost hearts ever quite wish to.” — Dodie Smith

I love traditions that endure.  They may morph, become slightly diluted, be maintained while slightly deluded – it matters little.  Traditions add dimension to the family construct, providing the shading and nuance that help complete the picture.  It informs our history and clarifies elements of our future – what do I hope my children will choose to carry forward?  What elements of their history and our traditions will they value and hold?

As I watched my father-in-law preside over the Seder on Monday, I was struck by the simplicity and complexity of family traditions.  The delight in hearing the youngest children ask the four questions.  The enthusiastic negotiations that ensue once the Afikomen has been found.  My father-in-law beamed with pride, while still maintaining an air of amused gravitas.  Each child kissed and congratulated for their detective work.  Parents smiling so broadly – some relief undoubtedly mixed in with all that love.  The miracle of generations sharing the secret recipe for creating the perfect olio that makes each family unique, its traditions singularly their own.

And as my brother-in-law referenced those who were not in attendance – his daughter and her family in LA, his mom, my mind secretly wished that my parents were still here, that there were more traditions still to be had in their home.  And though this isn’t about them, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that there were memories that shone in my mind’s eye with primary-color-like clarity.   I saw a picture my sister had posted with our family’s seder plate in the middle of her table, and my reaction was visceral.  Can a heart turn upside down and still beat?

As I looked around the table though, I was also struck by that which was not seen.  The dynamics that are tested, the hurt that only family members can inflict upon each other with or without intention.  The fibers that are being stretched too thin, the ones that are in the process of being rewoven with such care to ensure they are stronger and more pliable than ever before.  Each person’s story as it related to the others, replete with love, frustration, an intractable wish to be understood.  These are traditions too – and though arguably not those which we choose to carry forward, they move forward with us nonetheless.  Our conscious choice is what we do with them.  Family dynamics are rarely enviable – they’re too complex, too imperfect, too full.  At some point, we decide which elements are worthy of retention – the good and the not-so-great – the aspects that will comfort, delight and nurture us and those that may always move us to tears.  These I suppose are the traditions of the heart, the way we pass on the concept of family.  It is part of our legacy, so I would suggest that we choose well.  It becomes our imprimatur, our tacit approval for what will become critical elements of our family tradition.  May it always begin and end with love.

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46 thoughts on “It’s Tradition

  1. Anyone participating in a Seder this holiday – and I bet each presented overtly differently to the eye – all absolutely share the family dynamics you describe. From the visceral to the concrete, we all bring a memory, a feeling, a smell that serves as a catalyst for memories of moments, a set of beliefs… And, now it’s time for our generation to leave the memories that are meaningful to us to our children; to weave them into stories that will become our legacy as we witness the branches of each family tree settle across states, counties and the world. We hope that what we modeled well and that their memories will fill them with warmth and keep them embraced by our love long after we are here.

      • next year perhaps we can find a seder table that can accommodate all our families and combine traditions paving the way for our kids to embrace family and take note of a friendship that has managed to transcend time. As Helaine so aptly wrote “L’dor V’dor incredible as it may seem that this task now falls to us; mere children ourselves, still learning, still evolving, still yearning for traditions to return from whence they came. I know we can do this – women in their renaissance can do anything. 🙂 All there is.

  2. I love this post; it’s like you’re inside my head. Most of all I love how you said that it should all begin and end with love. I think we would be in trouble if it didnt.

  3. My parents have also been gone many years. When our own children were younger, we would head south to our in-laws for the holiday. But now that they’re older, the traditions are rapidly disappearing, replaced only by a single box of Matzoh on the counter once a year.

    Traditions are enduring – but so tough to maintain.

    The photo, though, says it all… 🙂

    – J.

    • It’s true – traditions are so hard to maintain, and some I think disappear for a while only to return at some unforeseen time. At least I hope so. 🙂

  4. Beautifully said. My still almost new, blended family (remarried five years ago) is incorporating and adapting traditions and creating new ones. And as I get older, I appreciate the old traditions more and more. And that photo again … where do you find them? What a beautiful, powerful image.

    • I go online and look for pictures that are available to anyone – in this instance I typed in “family hands”…I too appreciate the older traditions more and more as I get older. So glad you liked this Laurie – thank you!

  5. Another gorgeous post, honey, that leaves me absolutely speechless in its crystalline truth. So many sentences jumped out at me, none more so than this one: “The dynamics that are tested, the hurt that only family members can inflict upon each other with or without intention.”

    With every passing day I come to understand more and more how the words of another can quickly and easily lift one up, giving her hope and a renewed sense of purpose or belief in self or send her spiraling into a negative cycle of self-doubt, grief, hurt or self-recrimination. It is why we must always do our best to be mindful of our words and actions AND their consequences, intended or not.

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. You are a BEAUTIFUL soul, sweet friend, and an angel among us…..

    • Ok, tears down cheeks again..I’m a blurry mess. Thank you for making me feel so special. You always do..And yes, the power of our words is far greater than we realize. And they can’t be retracted and are rarely forgotten…we need to use them well…love you..xoox, m

      • I read this post early yesterday. And let’s just say that Lori (once again) circled on the sentence that hit me. Too tender to go there so I will veer away and say that the 2nd profound thought in your post: “What do I hope my children will choose to carry forward?” Which also left me a bit numb. No need to imitate your old man, kids. Just find your own way. Find peace. Find joy. It goes fast. Enjoy the ride. LOVE THIS POST.

  6. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read; I’m trying to type but my eyes are blurry with tears. Not only because of the content though–I am also in awe of your talent for capturing deep-felt emotions, for finding exactly the right word and turn of phrase, and never embellishing too much or too little.

    This is especially moving for me–one of my strongest memories of my dad is leading the Seder, opening the door for Elijah, and winking at me when it was time to find the Afikomen. He may even have quietly chimed in while I was singing the four questions in my very broken Hebrew. I hope you feel your parents’ hands on your heart the way I feel my dad’s on mine.

    • Oh Jill, thank you. Each family dances its own unique steps, and yet they are steps we all recognize as privately choreographed and universally interpreted. I love the memory of your dad that this post evoked, for it is loving and warm and reflective of your beautiful heart. xo

  7. This is a fantastic post and your words spill out intensity of emotion. You cover all aspects of family – the highs and the lows – with the reference to the lows said subtly kindly and compassionately, yet the message comes through. This post resonates with me as I battle with splintered nuclear family dynamics, rekindle extended family connections and forge ahead with a new family order. Yet the love of family and its traditions lives on.
    Your own love and sense of belonging in your own family is clear in this post.
    You shine like a star.
    Ten stars for this post
    🙂

    • Thank you so much Elizabeth!! I remember the years of rekindling connections and recovering from splintered family relationships. Your use of the verb “forge” is so apropos! For what remains – perhaps in a new form with re-defined boundaries and understandings – is family. Family with its deep pain and deeper love. And with a little bit of luck, the love wins. You made my morning, as you so often do.

  8. What did Tevye sing?….Tradition…since my mother passed away 8 1/2 years ago, this holiday had been difficult for me. When my daughter said that Passover is her favorite holiday, I told myself to get off the pity party and keep the tradition alive. For my mom, myself, my girls and most of all, my grandson. It was a wonderful Seder in the end.
    Thanks, Mimi for sharing a beautiful story. ❤

    • Your posts and pics were priceless Helaine – and your mom is ‘kvelling’ to see the tradition continue with you lovingly at the helm. It’s wonderful..<3

  9. What a great post had me gripped to the end, I also love the way you write and how it takes me there…………..and leaves me feeling like I experienced what you wrote about

    • Joanne, thank you so much!! What high praise, and I hope I never disappoint!! I’m so happy that you enjoyed the post and humbled by your support. Thank you thank you!

  10. Pingback: Tradition | A Simple, Village Undertaker

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  12. Very nice post. I’ve often wondered about such traditions in a society that is constantly changing and interweaving with other cultures. It was moving to hear of your family around the seder table.

    • Thank you Shimon – you have been in my thoughts lately, and I hope you are doing as well as one can be during such a difficult time. My heart is with you. Mimi

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