Clearing the Fog

Today was the first time that while I was day-dreaming, instead of dissociating, I was planning what I might wear tomorrow. Dissociation, if you are unfamiliar, can consist of imagining or feeling as if you are a different person, feeling completely detached from your emotional state, or possibly feeling detached from reality completely. For me, it happens when the reality I’m in becomes emotionally unbearable, when I’m psychologically exhausted, when reality is just not cutting it. Without being dramatic, I would guess dissociation rates rose heavily for most of humanity over the last 18 months. I would even guess that a year ago most people didn’t know what that word meant, and now it’s familiar vocabulary.

Today, in a fun turn of mental events, I began dreaming about what could happen, in reality, the next day, in a positive way. I imagined what I might wear to go to brunch, what I was going to order to eat, whether brunch might turn into afternoon shenanigans. And that turned into the days after that. Something somehow clicked, it feels quite suddenly, and I feel like I’m back in a life where there are more tomorrows than yesterdays, more “I can’t wait for” than “remember when we used to.”

It must’ve started this week when I got a beer with a close friend, one of my chevra (study partners, classmates), who somehow after only a year, once again lives a few blocks away. We were reminiscing a bit about school, but also feeling grateful for the new chapter we’re in. It was a new moment, after this past year (or so), of feeling good about the moment we are in now, rather than some time past or some unforeseeable future. I talked to him about how, throughout my time in rabbinical school, I wasn’t going to be like Andy, (aka Andrew Bernard, the Nard-Dog — is that enough referencing?); I was going to acknowledge and appreciate that I was in the “good ole’ days” while I was in them. I wanted to look back at my time at Ziegler and appreciate how much I mindfully enjoyed my time, appreciated the formative development of myself and my friends from crazed grad students into rabbis.

I still feel that way about those 5 years, even as they got progressively more challenging, personally and professionally. But I did not expect to continue living in liminal space for the year following school as well. Now that I’m fully on the other side, one year out of school and starting my second job (whew), and now that we’re all coming out from the other side of nearly 18 months of limbo for humanity, I feel good about the future too. I feel good about the now. For me, personally, I’m entering what I’m hoping is another long period of “the good ole’ days.” More generally, we’re entering what I’m hoping is a period of living in the moment, in our lives as they unfold. Not with trepidation for the present and uncertainty and fear for the future, but with presence, authenticity in the present and curiosity and anticipation for the future.

The day after we got that beer, I went to a Shabbat dinner with two old friends, who I have not seen in 10 years. I was having an internal, deep dive into memories, nostalgia (and possibly fear of regression into myself) from my first years of college. One of my first social interactions, post-pandemic protocols, and just two weeks after moving back to the DMV (#ifykyk), and I felt myself grappling to maintain the sense of self I’d developed over the last decade. At the same time, I was earnestly excited to see them, to reminisce, and to get to know who they are now, who they have become (and are becoming — as we know, who we are is a lifelong process). It was also my first re-entry into a Jewish community where I felt a personal sense of belonging since I left LA and Ziegler. I was uprooted from my Jewish home on the west coast without a proper goodbye, and without a new place to replant. This Shabbat, I was able to see myself in the future of the Jewish community where I am now, as opposed to longing for something gone. Closure is a false concept, but having an experience where you can be lovingly nostalgic and content where you are simultaneously feels as close to closure as possible. Someone should write a song about that.

Now, having spent the rest of Shabbat by myself — on purpose: the pandemic is over but I’m still an extroverted introvert who likes to spend many hours alone recharging — I’m creatively energized (as evidenced by this essay) and I’m looking toward tomorrow. I love to daydream; I will spend hours on my balcony, listening to music, people-watching, and dreaming up stories of my life in other versions of the universe in my head. [In case you are wondering, I am either a music video/concert choreographer, an event planner, or a stand-up comedian.] I also dream about my current reality, processing past experiences, meditating on my relationships, planning the future. Over the course of the pandemic, I found that my daydreams had turned almost exclusively into false or alternative realities. Witnessing firsthand that we are moving forward, through the simple pleasures of sharing a drink or a meal with someone, has begun to clear the fog in my brain. Sure, it’s still there — this transition will take time, energy, focus. It has to happen in these little steps, one day and one small social interaction at a time. Our brains are still foggy, but the light is breaking through the cracks.

Imagine entering an unheated pool on a 90-degree day. As a kid, you might have jumped right in, feet first. Now, we ease in, a little at a time. It’s jarring, shocking; the sensation feels a bit surreal and possibly untenable. Slowly the body adjusts, and eventually we’ll find ourselves fully submerged and in reprieve from the heat. At this point, maybe we’re ankle deep. And I’m starting to feel ready to jump all the way in.

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