Nothing Profound

I really want to have something profound to say. After all, Yom Kippur starts tomorrow, and it’s a day for profound thoughts.

I haven’t got anything.

If you’re still reading, my pitch for continuing further was clearly way more persuasive to you than it sounded in my head. Or you’re pretty much a masochist. (I suppose you could be persuaded by my oh-so-enthusiastic opening and be a masochist, too. Perhaps we should schedule a therapy appointment for you?)

So, I’ll do the cheap way out of profound: I’ll reflect back on the prior year (which at least works with the Yom Kippur theme).

If there was a year where I wish we could have do-overs, I think this might be the one.

We hospitalized Secular Jew, Jr., twice in the course of a month this past spring. Not for anything physical, mind you, but because the good intentions of all went terribly, terribly wrong. He spent his tenth birthday in an inpatient behavioral health facility.

May really, really sucked. And at least a few times each week, I am struck by guilt because, all along the road, I had a hand in it. And every time SJJ seems even a little off-kilter, I get the beginnings of the surges of adrenaline that accompanied the outbursts in April and May. You know what it feels like when adrenaline kicks in, but there’s no real danger to respond to and no stimulus to direct yourself toward? (Hint: it’s pretty nauseating.)

December 2013 onward has been a challenging period, and would have been so even without SJJ’s health difficulties. Mrs. Secular Jew’s mother passed away in mid-December; much of the rest of December was spent realizing how much we didn’t know about where her dad’s health was at, and having to quickly figure that out. This has been an incredible burden for Mrs. Secular Jew, and I honestly don’t know how she handles it, other than that there’s been scrambling on my end to try to take up slack at home when I can.

All of this was terribly well-timed with beginning rabbinical studies, teaching a couple of classes as an adjunct instructor at a local university, and working my regular job.

We have been fortunate in that two hospitalizations convinced our insurance company to step up what they would cover in autism treatments for SJJ. We have been fortunate that, most of the time, our financial needs are more than adequately met. (Nu, this week could be better, but generally we’re in much better shape than many others.) SJJ is so, so much happier–though it took new doctors, new treatment, pulling him from school and putting him into full-time autism-centered care, and many other things to make that happen. Mrs. Secular Jew’s dad is safe and well cared-for, though sometimes none of that is any real comfort to her.

And so, we have things that we can, should, and do feel fortunate about. But more than ever before, this year has shown me how fortunate I have been, and how fragile that is. Not that I didn’t know it before; but I appreciate it more.

Is there some teshuva to be done after all this?

I should complain less, but I doubt I will. Call me a pessimist, a realist, or just a kvetch, but that admittedly not-so-good character trait will have to wait.

I should stop and [insert your cliche here], but stopping and [insert your cliche here] can be difficult to do. We’ve tried to step up, just a bit, our marking of Shabbat each week. But if you’ve tried to “do Shabbat” consistently week after week, you know that sometimes things hit on all cylinders and sometimes, well, not so much (and that’s true even if you are shomer shabbat–anyone who says otherwise isn’t being candid about the fact that life happens and not every Friday/Saturday is an island of bliss-itude). And one of the tricks of being a parent is that you don’t always get to stop.

The biggest thing I’ll take away from this year is to look more carefully at where we’re at and what we’re doing. To some degree, it’s a question of self-awareness and self-management: I’m seeing now where I get overwhelmed and how, and I’m thinking about ways of addressing that.

I’ve finally figured out, too, how difficult it is to be a bit isolated. That’s a change for me; my Mom described me many times as “a lone wolf” type, and I’m sometimes hesitant to acknowledge the need for connection. I’m in my head a lot, because generally my head gets the right answer. But this year has taught me that it’s not always right, and some of that teaching has been very painful. This High Holiday season has been particularly difficult for me (though I’ve not let on about this at home–hi, Mrs. Secular Jew, now you know!) because I’ve had a number of profoundly inspiring social Jewish experiences in the last year after many years of not much at all: attendance at the Rabbis Without Borders student retreat in November, rabbinical school classes (especially the in-person ones), attendance at the Association of Humanistic Rabbis meeting this past July. (Passover Seders, too, were nice, but it’s hard sometimes to bond in those environments for me because my mental wavelength is sometimes quite different.)

But for that, I know my teshuva. I’ll be working this year to build a humanistic Jewish community–however small–in Indianapolis. Stay tuned.

May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur and, if you’re fasting, an easy fast.

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