This time of year reminds me of one of the biggest arguments Yohanna and I have had as a couple, because it was about Passover.
In 1996, we were spending our first Passover together. She had brought to my apartment a jar of pesto, and I resisted using it because it wasn’t labeled Kosher for Passover. I had grown up in a home in New York in which everything dish and pot was replaced for Passover, and the food was all strictly labeled as fit for Passover use. Yohanna in her Oregon Jewish upbringing had to make due with less available, so relying on ingredients and being more creative was de rigueur. I resisted the pesto, she insisted, and we argued for a while. The argument ended when I turned the jar on its side to reveal the “Kosher for Passover” label affixed to the bottom.
But what was this argument about, really? Not pesto, but the coming together of worldviews, experiences, expectations that happens when two people come together as a couple. It involves negotiation and compromise, and sometimes a bit of heated argument.
I was reminded of this episode not only because it’s Passover but because of an article I read recently in the Atlantic: “The Case for Getting Married Young“. It argued that, despite recent messages that encourage the delaying of marriage until after one is more settled in education and career, there is a case to be made for marrying young. In characterizing changing attitudes, a project called Knot Yet, which researches both the benefits and costs of putting off marriage, notes that “young adults are taking longer to finish their education and stabilize their work lives. Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone.’–that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.”
Yet, the article goes on to point out, the traditional reasons for delaying marriage–finishing education and stability–are no longer holding out. With increasing economic insecurity, the lack of a guaranteed job after education and mounting student loan debt, delaying may not be beneficial. And there are other, less practical and more theoretical, reasons for thinking about marrying younger, argues the author. She cites a 2009 report by sociologist Mark Regnerus who states, “marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you are fully formed.”
This speaks to my personal experience. After that fight, we did get married, and have been for almost 15 years. We were both 25 when we got married, younger than the current national average. Our marriage for us has been a cornerstone–we have both built our lives around our partnership, rather than our partnership around our lives.
Marriage is about formation. I do believe this to be true. And I believe this not just about marriage but of other things as well. So many of our social institutions and conventions are about formation, and we enter into them despite not being “fully formed.” We think the opposite, however. We are prone to say, “I want to get married but I’m not ready.” Or, “I want to have a child but only when I’m ready.” Or, any number of things desired, but only when one “is ready.”
Well, guess what? You are never ready.
That’s what the matzo on Passover is all about. The Torah tradition for the matzo is that we eat unleavened bread because our Israelite ancestors did not have time to let the bread rise before needing to leave Egypt; it is a bread of haste. But that is only one way to see it. Matzo is a fully formed, edible food. Was it what was intended? Perhaps not, but it is what it is. The circumstances of leaving Egypt created a new reality. The Israelites did not wait to leave Egypt until they were “ready.” They just left, because that’s what they had to do. They had to move forward. The matzo represents moving forward whether you are ready or not, and our acceptance of that fact.
The Israelites didn’t wait to leave until they were fully formed–leaving Egypt was the formative experience. The crossing of the Red Sea is traditionally marked on the 7th day of Passover (this coming Monday). We note the final emergence of a free people from one that was enslaved. The story of the physical crossing parallels the emotional and spiritual one. We witness, through observing Passover and eating matzo, the formation of a new consciousness and a new reality.
And that is our approach as well. Life moves forward, we move with it. Life doesn’t wait for us to be “ready.” We still have our own crossings to make. The bread may not rise, but something will come in its stead. Passover (and spiritual life in general) reminds us of our own process of formation, our own process of becoming, and our need to be open to wherever that takes us.
So here we go. Pack the matzo. And, if you want, the pesto.