24 April, 2011

Why Easter Means More Than Chocolate Bunnies

           Easter’s origins are sacred to those whose practice Christianity.  The holiday is sacred to me for wholly different reasons.  As a young child, Easter promised a litany of traditions that were strictly observed in our family:  a new dress, a new slip, white gloves, bobby socks, and shiny new
patent-leather shoes.  The most cherished addition to the Easter outfit was a “bonnet”; I was often able to choose a pert new hat to set off my dress.  There were Easter baskets filled with small gifts and chocolate bunnies that
helped the hour or so before church pass quickly.  Holding my mother’s hand, I loved stepping into the nave of the church buffeted by the triumphant musical offerings that heralded the Good News. Easter Sundays forced the minister to truncate his sermon in order to make room for the choir director’s choral arrangements. In my Protestant church, timeliness was never violated; the notion of running more than the prescribed hour for a service was anathema to the congregation.  Contrary to other Sunday services, I did not doze or scribble or play mindless games such as counting the number of bricks in the ceiling.  Instead, on Easters, I nibbled every so slowly on the one, foil-wrapped chocolate bunny I was allowed to tuck into my little purse along side my white hankie bearing the letter “D and a quarter for the offertory plate.

         When I was twelve, my knees frequently dislocated when I walked.  A renowned orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey advised us that I needed to have my knees repaired as soon as possible; beside the painful nature of this problem, I was doing irreparable damage to the cartilage. We would start with the right knee during Easter vacation.  In addition, I would miss another week or ten days of school.  Three to six months later, he would repair the left knee. 

My surgeon’s schedule dictated I arrive at the hospital the day before the surgery. I underwent lots of blood work and x-rays and a thorough scrubbing before being wheeled down to the operating room at 6a.m. the next morning.  The post-surgical week was filled with pain, glimpses of my parents and sister, morphine delirium and friendly bunnies hopping off the walls.  By Easter morning, my doctor deemed me fit for a daytime-leave from the hospital.  I was to be back in my hospital bed by 6 p.m..  Our traditions for the day were put aside to accommodate my condition.  For example, for my Easter outfit, my mother delighted me by making me a pair of flowing palazzo pants in a psychedelic pink fabric that I had admired.  The pants fit easily over my thigh to ankle cast. My flip-flops were the only shoes that fit my swollen foot. Our family had dinner in a dark, crowded restaurant.  Its wooden dance floor still haunts me as I remember crutching back from the Ladies Room and taking a clumsy spill on the somewhat forgiving surface. Fortunately, I more bounced than fell.  I was publicly mortified when my father scooped me up and placed back in my wheelchair.  However, those splendid palazzo pants gave me the confidence to be wheeled back to the car under the curious eyes of the other restaurant guests.

     I turned very quiet on the car ride back to the hospital.  I was faced with another painful week of physical therapy.   My mind was desperately trying to reconcile the meaning of Easter with the idea of spiritual resurrection and with the daunting tasks ahead.  I was faced with having to recuperate from the right knee surgery then return to repeat the entire process on my left knee. I remember the thrill when I had first had a glimmer of an insight; the only way through these challenges was going to be with the help of my family, my friends, and my faith.   
         Easter was all about the impossible. Easter that year had not included most of our traditional observances.  We didn’t attend church or enjoy the familiar music that always lifted my spirits.  The flowers, oh the flowers – lily’s and hyacinths and tulips and daffodils – all so integral in proclaiming Easter—were not in sight.  There was no Easter egg hunt.    However, a cataclysmic shift took place in my understanding of Easter.  The resurrection of hope could not be confined to one oft-told tale of of a young man’s sojourn to death and back again.  For me, Easter had come to have an enormous significance for anyone who believed in the possibility of new beginnings. Anyone who wished to could lay down the burden of their past and, instead, pick up the promise of the future. 
         In the last gasp of pre-teen awareness, I understood that Easter was not about the new hat, the new dress or the chocolate Easter bunny.  Easter was about the crocuses pushing their way up through the cool, dark soil to bring a spot of color to a spring day.  Easter was about the sunrise when the fingers of first light promised the dawn of a new day. 

          In the forty years since that Easter, nothing has diminished my belief that Easter serves to remind us that hope is a certainty; it is among God’s greatest gifts to mankind.   Darkened skies and  defeated spirits can not withstand the restorative power of hope….Hope, buoyed by love and a positive attitude,  always brings with it a better, brighter tomorrow.  

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