Monday, April 06, 2009

Close Encounters of the Unexpected Kind

On Shabbat afternoon, I left HOBB (husband of Bungalow Babe) and thirteen-year-old Little Babe after the communal pre-Passover shul luncheon known as The Last Challah, and walked down to the JCC to meet a friend.

It was a notably blustery day. Though I typically look forward to this two-mile Shabbat hike -- a personal ritual -- I felt more than a bit daunted by the prospect of traversing 40 windy blocks. In addition, the sky was gunmetal grey with a moist sting in the air. Having decided against a hat, I had a vision of myself arriving at the facility drenched, shivering and miserable.

Forty minutes later, having stopped in at least half a dozen shops to warm up along the way, I arrived. Despite my fears, it hadn't rained, though my fingers were nearly numb with cold and my hair looked like it had been blow-dried by a hairstylist on crack.

As planned, my friend arrived at 3:30 and we quickly commandeered a couch in the lobby in the minutes prior to the performance of the Acapella group -- a standard feature of the JCC's Shabbat R&R program. While she guarded our seats, I went to fetch cups of hot tea and cookies -- all free, courtesy of the observance-friendly community program.

Though we had thought to meet for a couple of hours (before she went off to her Torah class and me to my regular afternoon workout at the JCC), the sun was setting by the time we parted company.

As we spoke in the lobby, and then in the vacant reception area of the nursery school, four hours had passed. And when I arrived home at 9:30 pm, HOBB was completed baffled as to how I had managed to spend six hours "at the gym."

But I wasn't "in the gym" for six hours, I attempted to explain. I was with my friend and then I went to the gym only for the last hour...after which I fell into a locker room conversation with some women about the limitations of talk therapy and philosophy of Viktor Frankl.

While HOBB looked at me skeptically, I asked, don't you ever get into long discussions with your friends or meet really interesting people in unexpected places? Don't guys have these kinds of talks in locker rooms?

But even as the words were leaving my lips, I knew that the kind of locker room talk men were renowned for was hardly about matters such as logotherapy.

No, he stated, continuing to stare at me as if I had just announced my conversion to Wicca. I have never had any kind of extended conversation in the locker room nor do I have four-hour long discussions with my friends in the lobbies of buildings. That's not the kind of thing that happens to men.

I uttered a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord for not making me a man. And happily pondered my penchant for unexpected connections, for interpersonal adventure, for encounters with friends and strangers...the good, the bad and the unbelievably weird.

This, you see, is a recurring theme in my life. I leave Point A bound for Point B. Most often I arrive at my appointed destination...but not until visiting Points Z, Q, G and V along the way.

Or my pre-supposed destination becomes a launching pad for another kind of adventure.

Most of the time, the journey feels magical, marvelous and tinged with bashert, a sense of the pre-ordained.

Mainly, these adventures occur when I am on my own. I have also come to see that there is a special category of Shabbat afternoon close encounters of the bashert kind.

And every now and then, my very openness leads me into an awkward or questionable or unsavory situation.

Such an encounter took place earlier this week, far from the protection of Shabbat. In the course of a prospective business meeting with the kind of client I invariably avoid, my openness exposed me to a sense of personal trespass.

But life adventurers don't easily wear the mantle of victimhood, expect for obviously extreme situations. Creepy though this particular connection proved to be, I proudly toss it into the valise of personal experience, looking back at it with a kind of horrified fascination.

The sun has just come up on the start of a new work week. Twenty minutes ago, my daily alarm went off and I silenced it quickly, so as not to wake Little Babe or HOBB. Sitting at the dining room table in my quiet apartment, I pause to consider that three nights from now this very space will be filled with the clutter of conversation as Middle Babe and Big Babe will, GW, join their little brother, grandparents and guests at our first Seder.

Though I am now rooted in secular time, Pesach will shortly pour its magic over my household. Within the pre-ordained structure of the Seder, unexpected adventure, interpersonal revelation and connection with our collective past and future will occur. As we sit together, recounting the story of our people's journey from slavery to freedom, spontaneous, sometimes startling discussion becomes interwoven with the timeless text of the Hagaddah.

It is for this, I believe, that we were liberated from Egypt. The Children of Israel were the first chance adventurers, refusing to go directly from Point A to Point B.

Indeed, forty years elapsed between their departure and appointed arrival, an epoch that has erroneously been called Wandering.

But as the descendent of this nation of early adventurers, driven to seek an alternative to the straits of servitude to Pharoah, I toast the first recorded road trip in Jewish history, knowing that, though the going was often rough, it was an excellent adventure.

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