In this season of Passover we find ourselves in the midst of a new killing spree. Instead of the Pharaoh we have Corona. We’ve all become Jews painting Lysol rather than lamb’s blood on our door frames as we hunker down waiting for the angel of death to move on.
Normally Passover is celebrated for seven or eight days in remembrance of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery. This new Passover is currently scheduled to last at least a month. How fortunate is that! Except you can’t go out, gather together, or hug.
With nowhere to go and little to do, the blessed on the planet are compelled to rest and connect with ourselves, one another and nature, limit our newsfeeds, cook, and watch movies. For the first time in my 30-year marriage, we’re playing chess. At the same time, it’s hard not to dwell on my impending death, whenever it may be.
As a 73-year old secular Eastern European Jew, I have come to the conclusion that life is neither fair nor unfair. And with no personal savior to pray to while I shelter in place, I am thrown to calculating my odds of surviving this plague. I soak up the data and assessments from Drs. Fauci and Birx and punch in my numbers. I take the number of sick in my city and multiply by the global death rate. Then I multiply all that by a health rating measured, in part, by my good cholesterol and family longevity figures, and come up with one thing for sure: If the virus gets me, no one will say, “Such a tragedy. She was so young.”
Facing my forthcoming death sentence, I’m no longer concerned with “when I will die” but “how I will die.” Gracefully or kicking and screaming, like my mother? Up until her 95th year, she lived in the dream that science would conquer death in her lifetime. Oops! The anguish and resistance to her inevitable demise produced tremendous suffering. No, when my time comes, I want a good death. I want to leave this life with acceptance and gratitude, and a sense of completion.
Which brings me back to the angel of death hovering overhead. I ease my fear and alleviate my sense of isolation by having video chats with friends. We talk about the ways we are celebrating our aliveness – breaking open champagne stored for a special occasion, dressing up, dancing, making love like it’s the last time. In each conversation and in the spirit of the Passover seder, I ask 4 Questions, new ones for the new crisis. These questions remind us that life is short and our expiration date cannot be known. They are basic preparation for as good a death as possible:
1. Am I grateful for the life I’ve been given?
I appreciate the joys, challenges, laughter, and tears.
I thank my parents and my ancestors, no matter how good or bad, for providing me access to this miraculous gift of being alive.
I delight in the mystery of it all.
2. Am I in peace with my family and important relationships?
I have expressed gratitude for their presence in my life.
I have apologized for my misdeeds, asked for forgiveness and accepted if they declined.
I have found forgiveness for others whether they asked for it or not.
3. Have I attended to the mundane details of my departure?
I have a plan for care should I become incapacitated.
People know what to do with my body and possessions.
4. Am I moving serenely into whatever future I may have?
I either have a plan of action to turn my dreams into reality or am comfortable not knowing.
Answering YES leaves us free to focus on the possibilities of the moment. Right now, I’m looking for recipes for oatmeal cookies. Four affirmatives pave a path of peace in day-to-day life. For a good death, any NO must be addressed. The sooner, the better. But the problem is: If you knew how to address it, you probably would have already. Therefore, a NO will likely call for you to reach out for help. And isn’t reaching out what this whole epidemic is about?
Hellen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” In the New Passover, the angel of death calls us to consider our last great adventure. We can choose how to approach it.