On Thursday nights I have band. I always get wound up on band nights so it takes longer than usual to fall asleep or even get sleepy. This is not helped by the fact that Europe has not changed to daylight savings time yet so my slight overlap with my work colleagues is an hour later. Or by the fact that I enjoy talking to them so long after the things actually pertinent to my job have been said I tend to talk a bit more. By talking I mean typing as that’s how we communicate 99 percent of the time with them.
I didn’t fall asleep until 5 am. Technically I also have band rehearsal for a different band on Fridays but between my extra light on sleep night and knowing today would be different than usual I suspected it would be a mistake to push myself to get to that and still be able to get my work stuff in the minimum shape to head into Shabbat ready for my Hebrew I graduation dinner. It was a day where I actually was aware enough to realize I needed to pace myself to stack the odds better in terms of a good outcome. Sometimes I just carry on with what I planned even though I suspect it will be too much so just knowing not to was positive for me.
The way my life worked out I started this class the same day I officially started my new job. I had practices for more than a year with an app to be able to make it not a total waste of money, as I have dyslexia. It’s impact is largely hidden in a very over learned character set but painfully apparent when I try a different one.
Back when my rabbi’s wife was explaining to me why I should take it and my enthusing about my meeting new people, getting more familiar with Hebrew, and getting out of the house I was in a state of mild to moderate panic and that kept increasing as the date drew closer. It didn’t help that the date of my new job also loomed closer at the same time.
Even getting out of the house is a tough one for me right now as with every other aspect of my autism as stress goes up so to do my symptoms so my tolerance for the sensory experience that is everyday life is at close to an all time low. I don’t remember it being so bad since kindergarten actually. One day I will write about the sensory nightmare of kindergarten.
I did convince myself though that of all the situations the world offers this would be the closest to an academic one on offer short of actually returning to school. I have a high degree of academic comfort. Test off the charts for it on some odd test they give you in university at some point. So I convinced myself I could indeed go and would likely survive this encounter with an unknown place and and unknown quantity of unknown people.
I did more than survive of course. There were more women than men in the class and women have always scared me more than men. I guess I had not interacted in depth with many since growing up and I had missed that most women do grow out of the kinds of behaviours I came to associate with being with women when I was still growing up. It was good for me to learn that there can be less terrifying women.
My class was as filled with kind and compassionate people as my congregation is and eventually I even had a regular study meeting with someone who lives nearby. I don’t take those things that seem like no big deal for granted. To me having someone to meet at a coffee-shop and study Hebrew with is huge.
As difficult as I knew the Hebrew would be it was the people part that truly terrified me as it always is.
So today because of the deviation from the norm that the dinner would bring about I thought it best to lay low, rest a lot and go into the evening feeling calm and rested. It was potluck and I wasn’t going to risk the horrors of time spent cooking going wrong so I opted having heard what people would bring to get fruit. A slacker in the potluck department I guess but I wasn’t gambling anything today. A person in my class picked me up and we headed out.
We had our dinner on the top floor of what is one of the taller buildings in our downtown. Because we are on a tectonic plate what’s allowed in our downtown is smaller than most but still the view was fabulous and so we got on with the agenda of the night which was mainly to have a Shabbat dinner.
Some of the people in the class are in the class as part of either a return to Judaism or in preparation for a conversion so there is an underlying element of teaching people to be Jewish. A nudge towards being more observant maybe for some. The norm for the local Conservative community is towards fairly orthodox practices in many ways so the dinner had to be downtown in so those that refrain from travel on Shabbat could walk home. The bulk of the community lives near downtown.
It was probably the first and maybe the only Shabbat dinner to be held on the top floor of that magnificent building. It was in a very famous company’s very nice local office and some of us joked that it might stir a massive move from our own occupations as what passed for a boardroom there was very sumptuous indeed.
So we did the usual dinner things which were new to some of our class, and we ate and talked. I realized for the second time in under a year that I was at the very kind of social gathering that had terrified me all my life and I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t hiding out in the bathroom, and I hadn’t even brought my camera so I wasn’t even hiding behind it. I was talking. I was actually feeling not too anxious at all. In fact since for some of the formal parts were well known to me I felt down right at ease at times. When I was young I did best with highly structured social activities and I suppose the fact that there are some highly structured and even better, pretty much unchanging aspects to this kind of dinner did play a role in my ease.
We had to speak a bit about the class at the end and were given our certificates. I didn’t say because I hadn’t processed it that the achievement for me that mattered more was the very night. Not the newborn, grasp of Hebrew phoenics but having stuck it out to the point where I knew that many more people and could eat with them without being in a blind state of panic.
A rainbow showed up at some point. A rainbow has special religious meaning as a sign that G-d will never again get so mad at what must be his most trying creation and wipe the bulk of us out. I didn’t attach any special significance to it other than it being the time when people were looking at the rainbow that it was quiet enough for me to appreciate not the miracle that we were in no imminent danger of being washed off the planet, but that I was there at all.
In what is still the hardest time of my life ever, when I am still coping with more than I think a so called “normal” person could handle in a short span of time I was not only still alive but some forward progress was happening. I was able to sit and eat and talk in a group of people I didn’t know 5 months ago. That for me may be a miracle worthy of a rainbow in and of itself. Also the time to appreciate that very thing. That while many aspects of my life face new and difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible challenges some progress is happening where I might least expect it to.
I am grateful.