Thoughts on a picnic

Thoughts on a picnic

This year, our Shavuot picnic was perfect.

It was an extraordinarily beautiful day, the most spectacular I could imagine. The sky was bluer, the leaves greener, the sun more golden, the clouds more puffy and white, the temperature more temperate, the humidity more nonexistent, the picnickers more brightly dressed, and the grass more free of dog poop than on any Shavuot picnic I can remember.

We have been going to the same place with the same friends for about 25 years now. We’ve become a tribe; we’ve grown from four adults and five kids to 12 adults and seven grandchildren, and there are likely to be more. We’ve suffered the sad but not tragic deaths of our parents and the nightmare death of a child. We have watched passions develop into careers. We have grown more and more tightly bonded. And now we watch the next generation start to take over.

We sat among other groups from our shul. We’ve known many of them forever also; some have been going to the picnic for 30 or 40 years, and others are new to it. Everyone was welcome.

We celebrate Shavuot with piles of thin-sliced orange lox and lashings of white cream cheese and chunks of marvelous exotic richly flavored cheeses. (The kinds that some of us adore and make others say “I don’t eat mold.”) We eat cheesecake and our friends’ annual Ten Commandments cake — a cake from a box that everyone insists is better than anything else, topped by similarly delicious frosting from a can, baked into the shape of the Tablets of the Law and topped by 10 red strawberries, strategically placed, one per commandment.

We had not all been together, there in the park, since 2019. There was no picnic at all in 2020; there was a sad, sparsely attended attempt last year.

It led me to think about circles and spirals, and about how little we can guess what’s coming for us.

If time truly were a circle, if each year started exactly where the one before it left off, if we really were going round and round and round in the circle game, then there were would be no surprises. But it isn’t, and there are.

I looked out at the Hudson River. Is it exactly the same river that Henry Hudson sailed up? Yes and no; probably more no than yes, but it’s in the same place, and as majestic, and banked by the same cliffs.

But time really is a spiral. We go by the same place — it’s Shavuot this year, as it was last year, as it will be, barring disaster, next year — but we’re not the same. In 2019, we didn’t predict covid or pandemic. In 2020, we had no idea of what possibly could come next. Last year, hope came and went.

Two babies were born to our tribe during this time. One can walk already; the other will any day now. They both have personalities. They both have teeth. They both laugh loudly.

This year wasn’t quite normal, but it was close. And then there was the extraordinary beauty, which felt like gift to us for having waited faithfully and then having come back.

The world is a mess right now. Between Ukraine and guns and the threat to our democracy, it’s hard to be sanguine.

But then there’s simple bright beauty. And that means there’s hope. — JP

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