It was a predictably lovely evening. My 84 year-old mother had managed to prepare an amazing meal, resplendent with enough food for the Roman army. My father, 20 years divorced from my mother, filled out his part of the conversation with war stories that he'd been busy resurrecting in time for his annual pilgrimage to France for D-Day celebrations. My brother sat chatting with my husband Brian, while the grandkids bandied back and forth, eating, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. At the end of the meal, my sister-in-law and I assumed our post in the kitchen, scrubbing pots and catching up with life and each other.
Just as we leaving, my sister called from Alberta to wish us all a Happy Easter. When it was my turn to talk to her, I sang the same totally annoying Easter song that I sing to her every year. "Make a wish upon a bunny and your wish will come true," I crooned into the phone. She groaned. We both laughed.
It should have been a day that brought comfort and joy, but as we headed out on the highway, I felt strangely sad. The closer we got to home, the greater the funk that surrounded me. Exhausted by my own melancholy, I went to bed early, hoping to put my sadness to rest, only to have it follow me into my dreams.
Easter Sunday arrived early in a glory of pink and white. A deep frost the night before had created a pastel landscape that sparkled in the pre-dawn light like pure confection. I looked out the window and sighed. After a night of unsettling dreams, my funk was still fully intact. I decided to creep downstairs to make a cup of tea - the British panacea for all woes - and reflect on my misery.
Fortunately, I didn't have to suffer in solitude. Despite my best efforts, my early morning puttering had awakened Brian and he joined me at the kitchen table that was still heaped with the stuff we'd brought back from my mother's the night before.
Sitting in the middle of the table was a large decorative box. Stacked inside was a series of ever diminishing, beautifully crafted boxes, much like a Russian babushka doll. The boxes were a gift from my mother who knew that they would delight me. As I re-examined the boxes, I began to understand the prevailing sadness that had been following me. The boxes were scale images of each other, dwindling down until at the core there was nothing.
And therein lay the mystery of my sorrow. Our lives are marked by a series of predictable events - holidays and celebrations, routines and obligations, each one building on the previous one, collectively creating both order and meaning in our lives. But what happens when the rituals mask the meaning, the originality of each day? I suddenly realized that in falling into the ritual of Easter dinner at my mother's, I had lost sight of the miracle of a family's love. How amazing that an 84-year old lady could prepare a sumptuous feast for ten. How incredible that we possess technology that can bring everyone together, if only over the phone, from thousands of miles away. How wonderful that a family, torn by divorce two decades earlier, can still gather to break bread and share love.
The paradox of Easter, of spring, is that we can predictably count on the return of new life each year, and yet we cannot explain the unfathomable miracle of the new life that we celebrate. We build comfort into our lives with ritual, and in doing so, rob ourselves of the joy of spontaneity and discovery.
I was suddenly reminded of a poster that I had in my bedroom as a child. It pictured the pastel perfection of a morning much like the one that I was experiencing. Written beneath the picture was a quote from the 19th century philosopher Johan Wolfgang von Goethe which read, "Nothing is worth more than this day."
Somewhere between the known and comfortable, and the unknown and the miraculous, lies the secret of resurrection. Like a tiny green shoot poking up out of the still frozen ground, that secret reminds us that all of life exists only in the magic of this exact moment, never to be duplicated, always to be celebrated.