This Western Scrub Jay  visited during Janet Silver Ghent's outdoor Passover seder. (Photo/Phoenix Podell)
This Western Scrub Jay visited during Janet Silver Ghent's outdoor Passover seder. (Photo/Phoenix Podell)

Yellow-bellied fluffernutter and the bluebird of Passover

Once again, we have foiled the Angel of Death, and the pandemic. Since we’re fully vaccinated, we invited Allen’s family to share an afternoon Passover seder on our patio.

Winter has passed. Tulips, daffodils and snapdragons bloom in our garden. We have not heard the voice of the turtle in our land, as if a turtle has much of a voice, but the birds are chirping merrily. Thanks to the feeder on our clothesline, we host myriad flying creatures whose names we don’t know, so we make them up: yellow-bellied fluffernutter, cross-eyed bush thatcher, dapple-tailed window-splasher. But then we see a huge blue scrub jay, almost too big for the holes in the feeder, and Allen’s older daughter, Phoenix, captures the moment on her cellphone. After we recite Passover blessings, for wine, matzah and parsley (karpas), Spencer, our youngest grandson, asks if we have a blessing for bird seed.

“Of course,” we chorus, making one up on the fly. “Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, Borei Pri Ha Bird Seed.”

The adults respond with an “Amen” and we laugh, recognizing that the children have taught us a new lesson about gratitude.

In a traditional seder, the children ask the Four Questions in the haggadah. The first: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This year, we add a new question: “Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?”

Two years before, we sat at tables that filled the living room, surrounded by 20 people in our extended family. Last year, my husband, my brother (who lives with us) and I sat around a leafless table, and we shared our seder, but not our food, with family via Zoom. This year, our Sunday seder is outdoors, another first.

We talk about freedom from oppression and pharaohs. Ryan wants to know if the bad guy in the haggadah is Ramses I, II or III. We have no idea. But since the name of the Biblical pharaoh is unimportant, we begin to talk about modern-day pharaohs, leaders who oppress their nations. For Ryan, the first name that comes to his mind is that of the former president, who, like Haman, shall go nameless. Ryan doesn’t hesitate to voice his discontent with that guy, expressing gratitude that America has a new leader.

We also talk about plagues, then and now — hunger, racism, sexism, injustice, climate change — and we express gratitude. Allen’s daughters praise the meal, especially the matzah ball soup, which they look forward to every year. Spencer even tastes the gefilte fish, which his mother, aunt and brother won’t touch. That calls for a blessing. After a year of confinement, we have come through. Perhaps the masks will come off, soon. But we can still see smiles in one another’s eyes.

When the guests leave, Allen and I talk about our own blessings, including the freedom to not have to work for a living. Retirement, Allen says, doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means doing what you love to do, when you wish to do it. If I choose to devote four days to preparing all the dishes for a seder, I don’t have to ask for “personal time” off. If I’m tired in the middle of the day, the bedroom is just 12 giant steps from my office. However, hopping on and off the bed takes a little longer now. Everything takes longer. And it’s not necessarily easier. Eighty, which I will approach in a year and a half, is not the new 60. Not in a heartbeat. At 80, you do less, and when you don’t, thinking you’re still 60, the recovery time is longer.

We have passed through difficult times, and more may lie ahead, but on Passover we can give back as we feed family, share ancient traditions and create new ones. Just as Elijah appears every year at our unorthodox seder, when Allen retreats from the room and returns as a Biblical prophet with a rag mop on his head and a wineglass in his hand, maybe next year a bluebird will grace our seder again. If not, we will recall how she blessed us with her presence.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].