Spring seemed to arrive so quickly this year that I missed the deadline to make our usual plans to spend Passover with my parents. I didn’t book the flights in time. Things got astronomically expensive and we decided to stay home for the school break. Most years, the kids and I fly home to Phoenix, where we usually let my mom do the heavy lifting to observe the dietary obligations during the holiday. There’s no clearing of my own pantry of bread and cookies or stocking up on matzo or worrying about what the kids will eat when they are sick of macaroons and matzo brei. My mom always stuffs her fridge and cabinets with kosher for Passover staples like nuts, string cheese, peanut butter, cereal and of course all of the goodies I remember enjoying as a kid – including those addictive Barton’s almond kisses. And of course, mom usually hosts at least one Seder and the other night, we inevitably end up seated at the gracious table of one of my family’s longtime friends.
This year, I was on my own. We did attend two beautiful Seders with friends and nearby family. Yet it was up to me to follow through during the 8 days. I did not realize how emotional I would be over the fact that keeping up my own family’s observance would fall to me and how what I chose to make of the holiday would plant a very important seed for my own young son and daughter. It was during this time that I picked up Mary Lou Quinlan’s book The God Box and it resonated with me so much. It’s a story about a mother’s unique tradition now carried on by her daughter. The God Box introduces the world to a charismatic and devout Catholic woman named Mary Finlayson who started scribbling down her prayers to God wherever and whenever she could and saving them in boxes for years and years. Her so-called God Box. She would promise her loved ones and even strangers that she’d put their wishes, hopes, challenges, and dreams into her sacred box. And she really did. When she passed away, her daughter, the author of this lovely book, discovered the notes jotted down on scraps of paper, the backs of business cards and cocktail napkins that her mom had squirreled away throughout her home. The collection represented her mother’s deep devotion to her family and to a higher power. Mary Finlayson felt she had a direct line to God and took it upon herself to advocate for her husband, children and just about any person she met in her scrawled messages. The discovery of the notes inspired a new path for her daughter, Mary Lou, to spread the word of her mother’s powerful practice. More than anything, after reading the book, I felt that the revelation of her mother’s deep faith and the decision to tell the world about it, helped Mary Lou her mourn her mother’s death and even find new purpose in her own life.
As a mom, I try not to think about my own eventual passing and what it will mean for my own children. But I do hope that in teaching them the traditions my family has observed for generations that they will have something bigger than themselves to lean on when I am gone. When the kids sang the Four Questions at our Seder, as I had done at my grandmother’s table more than thirty years ago, I couldn’t help hoping that these rituals will help them when they are on their own. This was the first year our twin six-year-olds seemed to understand the themes underlying the holiday – freedom, human rights, the cycle of life and the beauty of spring. I’m not sure if they made the connection to a belief in a higher power. That will come later I guess. But like the God Box, it’s the practice that gives purpose. And I should add that this idea applies to every faith. My husband is Hindu and we also celebrate Diwali, as well. We may even start our own multicultural God Box at some point. For now, though, I feel like I’m making my own contributions to it every time we light candles on Shabbat, read bedtime stories with both Judaic and Hindu themes and discuss the ways we can help others in the world. Thanks, Mary and Mary Lou for the divine inspiration to keep going.
What do you think about starting a God Box? Do you have your own version?