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Comfort Zones

Posted Nov 21 2009 10:01pm
Being Jewish is a way that I get to understand what it's like to be different from the majority. This is the time of year when Christians begin their holiday rituals and it is so interesting to observe apart from it all!

There are all sorts of feelings I experience this time of year: excitement, anticipation, the loosening break from routine, along with a sprinkling of wistfulness, envy, and feeling left out. And I wonder: is this what it's like to feel autistic in a neurotypical world? Black in a white world? Gay in a straight world?

My students -- who are freshmen -- are getting so excited about going home for their first holiday (Thanksgiving). One young woman simply sighs and smiles and whispers, "I just love Thanksgiving. Right afterwards, my family gets out the Christmas decorations and we put up the tree!" She is so adorable in her warm happiness, so perfectly on the brink of life, and so excited to be who she is and where she is.

Another student, equally delightful but in a completely different, horn-rimmed glasses and piercings and cynical way, sits next to her and of course feels very differently. "My family is so lame," she says, frowing . "We don't put up the decorations until just a few days before. So lame."

However different their own family traditions may be, there is still this common knowledge that they share, however, that I am not a part of: the how and when you start your Christmas. The only part I experience is buying presents for people, and having time off. And, since I've been with Ned, I have been going to his family for Christmas, where they do a very traditional, almost Dickens-like Christmas dinner (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mince pie with hard sauce, gorgeous china and old heirloom silver, plus we dress up!). It is lovely. And it has become mine. But it is not something I grew up with, so it is not, shall we say, in my bones.

There was a time when, in my thirties, I tried to decorate for Chanukah, by making these blue and white garlands of ribbons and lights and silk flowers. But having lights on my house made me feel like a pretender, like a Wanna Be. I felt like I was covering something up, or flattening something out about myself: this was not what Chanukah looked like to me.

Chanukah, to me, is not lush and gorgeous, velvet and crystal, evergreen and merlot. It is not proud spruce forests and knee-deep freshly-fallen snow. Chanukah is more of a desert holiday, an oil lamp shining from the dark ruins of a hard-fought war; yellow light on brown stone. Songs in odd minor keys, that give you an uncertain feeling, rather than a deep affirmation of joy. Oily, salty, barely-sweet potato pancakes (potato?! WTF?!), rather than thin golden sweet butter cookies.

Both are beautiful and desirable in their own way. But trying to cross over into the other is definitely a move outside of the comfort zone. For some, perhaps, it is utterly impossible.
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