Rain for me is a religious experience. When I was still a struggling pre-med student at the University of Texas at Austin, I would run out of my apartment to stand in the rain. I was in the middle of a slowly-progressing nervous breakdown that ended my studies in 2008 and I had yet to come out of the closet. I spent most of my time in my bedroom listening to music or watching TV, and the depression crept up on me over time.
Depression does that. It does not like to rear its head in a timely fashion, rather, it builds slowly, slowly so that you don’t notice it changing the way you think and feel. Eventually one day, I realized I hadn’t left my apartment in nearly two weeks other than to get food, and even then it was usually under the cover of night.
It rained the day I shared this story at my interview for cantorial school. I could see out the window to the wet buildings across the street from the fourth story windows in the stuffy conference room. The panel of interviewers, mostly faculty, listened and laughed with me. I had been waiting for years to explain how this process led me to Hebrew Union College: how a college dropout who spent years riding around in his dad’s pick up truck with a guitar and a keyboard spent his time singing songs in bars to strangers decided one day to convert to Judaism. How I fell in love with Jewish liturgy after my first service and, with a push from my husband (“partner” at the time), decided to go back to school, finish my studies, and apply to seminary. How we spent years trying to make ends meet until we could finally move to Israel for the program.
During this time, I lost three grandparents. We got married. I graduated from university. We went weeks at a time living off of rice and beans and whatever I could throw into a pot and call “soup.” I sometimes feel myself getting worked up over how life can feel like a meaningless progression toward a finite end, and then I look out the window and it is finally raining in Jerusalem after 5 months of sadness for dry, beige stones.
Those five months were the longest I have ever gone without rain in my life other than one particularly hard year for San Antonio that saw a worse drought than usual. I spent my hours floating leaves and crude boats down small rivers in front of the drainage ditch in the cul-de-sac of my childhood home. I never felt more comforted than when the cold rain would run down my face on my way back to the warm house where my parents would laugh with their strange son. I’ll never forget the pruned fingers and foggy windows of that feeling.
The rain in Austin got me through the worst of my depression. That year was a particularly wet autumn, and had it not been for my excursions into its downpours, I am not sure where I would be today. Would I know my husband’s laugh? Would I have found Judaism? Would I be sitting in a warm apartment in Jerusalem as shabbat creeps over the horizon?
After shabbat this week, Chanukah will begin. And the rains will come again to Jerusalem. This is not a rain that will dampen the light of our candles, but rather the rain in which I will dance and celebrate my journey and my life. Stay warm this holiday, but make sure to enjoy the rain.