Why is tonight different from all other nights?
Tonight is the first night of Passover during the coronavirus pandemic.
Passover celebrates emancipation. The story unfolds through reading and song, in a multi-course meal with foods symbolic of specific events. Like many, my ancestors endured enslavement, loss, famine, thirst, sickness. Sometimes I wonder how they found the strength to push forward in the face of overwhelming odds.
As Passover approached this year, I’ve been watching Cuomo Prime Time, CNN. Chris Cuomo tested positive for coronavirus, and has been broadcasting from his basement, isolated to protect his wife and children. Like any set ready for filming, his basement looks tidy and inviting on camera. But I can fill in the blanks. Just off camera, I imagine a pitcher of water, next to a stain on the floor, where he overfilled his glass, hands trembling with the rigors (rise in temperature, intense chills, shaking). I can see the fever-drenched blankets, draped over chairs to dry. I can picture a simple table holding a plate of barely touched food, an open bottle of Tylenol, a thermometer.
For his show, Chris Cuomo dressed simply, in a zip-up sweatshirt to take the edge off the internal chill. He described a night of the rigors when his teeth chattered so violently he chipped a tooth. He had a fever so high he was hallucinating. His body aches felt like he was beaten with a stick. Yet, here he was, on camera, guiding us through our 21st century plague. There was no self-aggrandizement in Cuomo’s presentation — “I get why so many are so scared” — just a pull-no-punches description of his experience, both physical and mental.
Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN’s go-to doctor, joined Chris for a segment. Sanjay, like Chris, is stunningly articulate, bright crossing into brilliant. But their styles are different. Chris is fierce, electric, crackling high voltage. Sanjay is quietly intense, compelling in his lack of showmanship. As they spoke, the current between them was a palpable force, a bond radiating fear and hope, grit and tenderness, determination and vulnerability. In Cuomo’s words, “Together, as ever, as one. That is our remedy.”
That’s also the heart of Passover.
As we face a time of extreme uncertainty, I have no idea what lies around the next corner. But neither did my ancestors as they fled enslavement, and I know from their history that we humans continually surprise ourselves with our capacity to survive plagues, to cross deserts, even to part Red Seas. Sure, I’m scared as I face today’s pandemic, and sometimes the fear takes me by the throat. I’m also ready, in Chris Cuomo’s words, “with almost a fanatical sense of passion to fight.”
Why am I choosing to focus on Chris Cuomo, whose faith is Catholic? Because my Seder table always includes people of different faiths. Passover tells the story of the emancipation of the Jews, but it’s actually a celebration of the emancipation of all people. In my home, Passover has always been “together, as ever, as one.”
Next year in Jerusalem.
UNTIL APRIL 30, 2020, I’LL BE DONATING MY BOOK SALE PROFITS TO ORGANIZATIONS HELPING PEOPLE COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author, living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows Caroline Black into her first year as a psych intern. The story tracks a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.
Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.