I often do a gratitude practice first thing in the morning. It’s pretty predictable: thanks for the cup of coffee, for being awake early before everyone else gets up, for quiet time to meditate and do Wordle. I’m trying to extend that practice during the day, to stop and appreciate all the little ways that life is good, to acknowledge when people are kind and to try to let the rest go.
Thursday afternoons we’ve been going to a Mexican restaurant with V and his home therapist J. We go in and sit down, and the waitress, who now knows us well enough to remember our usual order, comes by with menus and then smiling, gets a hibiscus tea in a large glass with ice, with an extra empty glass so I can split it with V. At first I thought she was reserved and a bit standoffish but I realized she was just shy and in fact is lovely. She stands patiently as V, who has practiced stating his order, asks for guacamole and chips; and the rest of us place our orders as well (we’re not as predictable). It’s been a nice weekly routine: V stays seated while we eat, which is huge progress in the last few years, as he used to get up every few minutes to move around, which was exhausting.
At J’s suggestion we’re going to switch it up and start going somewhere else where V can order something that will require use of fork and knife. It’s been good though, to go out and feel even a little bit relaxed. The combination of V being a little less hyperactive and being somewhere we are known makes such a difference.
So gracias Benji’s Taqueria.
On Friday we went to sensory friendly Shabbos services that we haven’t attended since pre-pandemic days. (I still have trouble wrapping my head around how long the lapse was.) Again, there are people who know V, where he was a familiar presence. He paces around much of the time while singing along to the mostly musical service. Our fellow congregants haven’t seen him in a few years yet they still know and “get” him. And I felt so welcome; no one glares or makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s good for me because I see people I know and as T points out (he really wasn’t in the mood to go out but humors me) I am so desperate for socializing. It’s true, it’s hard with V to maintain much of a social life so I take any opportunity I can get, like a once monthly service. Gratitude to Beth Shalom, their kind members and their amazing cantor.
Saturdays we go to Shoprite (Yes, our lives are really exciting : ) where we have become familiar to much of the staff, although not necessarily to the customers, many of whom are impatient as we help V to put items into bags and to push the cart and help unload it. The store has a lot of special needs baggers so the cashiers at least are familiar with people like V. Again we are with J, which always makes things go smoother. Gratitude to J and the staff of Shoprite.
Saturday afternoon we go for our familiar walk in Verona Park. It’s a beautiful autumn day and the leaves are finally changing and V is beaming, walking briskly and loudly vocalizing as he goes. Three women walk towards us and looking right at V one of them says “Yes, what a wonderful day! We should all be singing!” and they all join in and I’m so taken aback because usually when V is vocalizing people either stare or ignore us. It feels so good to have someone acknowledge him in a positive way. Gratitude to Verona Park and to the three gracious ladies who make me feel less alone.
Sunday Torah Circle just started up again at Lifetown/Friendship Circle, something V has been doing for many years. People know him there and it’s a friendly environment. He participates in all the activities: cooking, drumming circle, STEM, musical davening. I’m so appreciative of the programs they provide in their spacious welcoming center, that he is engaged and happy while we have a break for a few hours. In my ideal world every day would be this good. Gratitude to Friendship Circle and all that they do for young people like V.
The fact is I still feel socially isolated much of the time, yet having these places where V is recognized and seen makes such a difference. At their best people want to connect. They don’t need to know someone’s diagnosis or the details of their challenges to know that judgment is easy but compassion and kindness goes a lot further. And as I’ve seen over and over, one person really can make a difference, as we all have that amazing power to help others to feel more connected, to be a friendly face to those of us still struggling to navigate this world. And for that I am grateful.