...I can't stop thinking about my widowed mother-in-law in her mid-70s, but to due to a lifetime of stress and health issues, she's physically & emotionally even older than that.
So she's worn out, she had a stroke over a decade ago and diabetes now, plus pain in her leg.
But she's also a social person. She really needs people around her.
And she has neighbors in next-door apartments and more neighbors also just a few footsteps across the way.
And usually, we've all taken turns going to her for Pesach, or, in later years, she's taken turns coming to each of us.
But this year, she's alone.
And because of a traumatic event back in Morocco that caused her father's death when she was only 6, her formerly wealthy family lost much of their money and my mother-in-law was pulled out of school.
So she never learned to read.
And she's going to sit there at the Pesach Seder all by herself...and she can't read the Haggadah.
Yes, there are phrases here and there that she knows by heart.
"Bivilu yatzanu miMitzrayim..."
Upon saying Bivilu, Moroccans take the Seder plate and circle it over the head of each participant, ending with a gentle bonk on each head. (I was told this symbolizes Mt. Sinai being held over the heads of bnei Yisrael, but I'm not sure if that's the real reason.)
So she knows Bivilu, but I'm not sure what else.
And I know that even if that's all she's able to say, that's like a big rav saying it.
Whatever we do is precious in Shamayim as long as we're putting forth our best effort.
Hashem judges us by our own resources, and not those of others.
I also know that she does talk to Hashem & knows that He hears her.
Back in Morocco, it was common for multi-generational extended family to live in 2-3-story homes (the ground floor often being either the family store or a communal place for the whole family to hang out).
And that's normal for her.
You weren't really ever alone. And even in a situation like now, you wouldn't really be alone.
And now she is.
Maybe a neighbor will read the Haggadah out loud from a window (as far as I saw, they don't have porches in the poor immigrant neighborhood my husband's family ended up in and where my mother-in-law still lives).
So on one hand, the mental image of my older doll-like mother-in-law sitting at the Seder by herself unable to even perform the basics of the Haggadah lingers in my mind.
And it pangs my heart.
On the other hand, it makes me feel grateful for what I have, which are so common, I don't always think to appreciate them as much as I really should: immediate family at home – and the ability to read.
So, yeah, this is kind of a downer.
But maybe it's also good perspective for appreciating what we DO have (which might be less this Pesach than previous Pesachs).