Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Holiday Stories - Essay from Newsletter 54

Mixing traditions

The ant

I have to warn you that I got my second COVID shot yesterday and I’m a little light-headed. I’m not sure that today’s post will make sense.

Let’s start with the story of the ant and the grasshopper.

The grasshopper sings all summer while the ant works and stores food for the winter.

Winter comes and the grasshopper comes to the ant for food and the ant say, “forget you” or whatever the equivalent would be in ancient greek.

The moral of the fable is supposed to be to respect the ant and learn that the grasshopper should have done some work during the summer.

But isn’t the ant kind of a jerk?

Whatever the reason, the grasshopper will die without help from the ant and the ant does have extra food.

“Maybe,” you think, “just maybe, the grasshopper will learn its lesson.”

Spoiler alert. It won’t.

But should the ant give it food anyway?

When someone needs something, and you can give it to them, either give it to them or don’t. But you don’t give it to them with any expectations.

So now the ant and grasshopper thing is all confused in my head. Such a simple play of morality and now I see it as a story with no heros. I’m not sure if there are any villains.

My second favorite Passover story is the story of the four sons. Which son is the grasshopper?

The Four Sons

Religious or not, I do love to have everyone over to our house for a Passover Seder.

It feels quintessentially Jewish.

The Haggadah argues about how to interpret the story, some people at the table argue about those arguments, and everyone argues about traditions.

“That’s not the way it goes.”

“We can skip that part.”

“We eat on page 53.”

Anyway, the Haggadah tells the story of four sons. Let’s call them children.

Forget what the questions they are asking - focus on how they are asking the questions.

The wise child asks a very specific question wanting to know how they fit into these stories and traditions.

The wicked child asks similar questions but is careful to make it about others and not themself. Their question is “what does this have to do with you” and not “what does this have to do with me.”

Stop there - think about how simple and subtle this difference is and how often we encounter this in our lives.

The ant may be viewed by Aesop as wise but it sees the grasshopper’s plight as about “you” and not about “me”.

The Other Two

This week there are more stories post spring break of parents who have been so careful during this time of COVID who have been exposed by their children who were not careful because young people don’t seem to suffer much from the virus.

There is a split between those who masked up and stayed distant - often at home - because they were the wise child who understood that the future for all of us is about “me” and what I decide to do.

The wicked child reasons that they’ll be fine. They go about their business with little regard for others - it’s about “you”. I’ll be fine. They don’t get their place is the story.

There are two more children.

There’s the simple child who asks what’s going on but isn’t mature enough to see their place in the world. They aren’t wise enough to see their responsibility nor are they wicked enough to reject it.

It’s our job to help them. We answer the question they’ve asked while addressing them at the level they can understand. We model good behavior and hope they will find their place in our world.

The fourth child is the child who doesn’t even know how to ask a question. That’s the child we reach over and put a mask on their face and give them a hug. We point to our own mask and smile at them and say, “look, we match.”

Honestly, I’m not sure I got the story right.

I didn’t host a seder this year.

Or last year.

Let me tell you my favorite Passover story.


One of the things I love the most about celebrations like Passover is that we collectively retell stories so that they aren’t lost and families have their own stories and songs that they add to the celebration.

When Kim and I got married we merged our two traditions in the ceremony. My great uncle Mel did the Jewish part and Father Mark did the Catholic part.

During our rehearsal Mark said in passing that usually when an interfaith couple marries the Jewish member wants the priest to do a Jewish service as no rabbi will.

He appreciated that I’d taken time to make sure that both faiths were fairly represented in the service and so on the wedding day he told an old Jewish folk tale as part of his sermon.

He also told me about a time when he was in seminary that they had a Rabbi visit to talk about Jewish traditions.

“Hey,” one of his fellow priests in training had said to Mark, “look at all the traditions they took from us.”

What this future priest hadn’t understood, Elena had grasped at an early age.

She saw the connections between the religions and loved to point them out while taking subtle digs.

When she was four or five she sat between her two grandfathers during our seder.

She took the plate of matzah from Kim’s dad, broke off a piece, and handed it to my dad.

When he reached to take it, she held it back a little so he would be forced to look her in the eye.

“Body of Christ,” she said to him with an impish smile on her face.

I love that story - by telling it to you, I’m glad to have made you a part of my celebration this year.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 54. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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