The High Holy Days are difficult for everyone. The services are long. The liturgy relies heavily on theological notions that are often in conflict with our modern day beliefs. There is a lot of Hebrew. Unfamiliar melodies. For most of us, however, we are able to overcome our discomfort and even, for some of us, use it at a spiritual tool.
For kids like my son Ben, who is on the autism spectrum, these are just a few of the obstacles. Bright lights. Loud sound system. Uncomfortable seats. And throngs of people. These can make an already overwhelming experience seem just unbearable. And then we come to the clothes. It is expected that we dress appropriately for shul. Ben, who has some sensory sensitivities, comes unglued when forced to wear anything that “hurts.”
While it was the act of getting dressed that triggered Ben’s first meltdown, we knew that it was fueled by the anxiety of all of the above.
While it was the attempt of figuring out how to maneuver (e.g. sitting, standing, walking) in his itchy, wool tallit that triggered Ben’s second meltdown, we knew that it too was fueled by the anxiety of all of the above.
But that’s not what I remember about that day.
My heart buckled under the weight of pride. Ben is the fourth generation to wear a tallit gadol–a HUGE prayer shawl. His was woven by our family’s weaver in Jerusalem and adorned with needlework by my mother. When my parents presented it to him this past April, in a private ceremony, he took his place in the line of tradition. Both a communal one and a familial one.
Captured in that one moment, Ben did not appear any different from the other emerging adults. Nothing about him bespoke the internal turmoil caused by an event like the High Holy Days. No indication of the earlier meltdown. Nor of the one yet to come. It was a moment of perfection. A moment providing me with a glimpse of Ben at his fullest potential.
Which is what these days of awe are meant to be. A reminder that when we push aside the anxieties, frustrations, meltdowns, and fears, all that is left is our fullest potential. Just as Ben works with his behavioral therapist to find strategies that will uncover his potential, we use these days to reflect on the past year and strategize for the upcoming one. Then, and only then, can our best selves emerge.