An Unexpected Gift 1

An Unexpected Gift

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Several weeks ago I received an invitation to a child’s birthday party. When I first received the invitation, I wasn’t sure I was going to attend because I suspected I would be the only one wearing a mask. The party would be indoors and crowded.
Even though I am vaccinated and boosted, I am still cautious about covid. Omicron may be predominantly mild in those vaccinated and boosted; however, of the people I know who have tested positive, quite a few speak of the fatigue they felt for weeks afterwards.
I know what it’s like to feel fatigued for weeks (years, actually) thanks to narcolepsy. The medicine I’m currently taking is kinda/sorta working, so I don’t want to chance a step backwards with covid.
As the party day approached, I decided to go and wear a mask. Case counts had been declining and I knew it would mean a lot to the birthday kid for me to attend. But now I had another concern — what to get the birthday kid as a present.
I much prefer giving experiences than things. So when I saw the Hartford Symphony had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Concert on their schedule for April 23 & 24, I knew this would be my gift. Not only does the birthday kid love Harry Potter (like I do!), but they also play violin.
An Unexpected Gift 2
The plan was to pick up birthday kid at 11:00am for a 1:00pm show. I thought that would give us enough time to stop and get lunch somewhere and drive the 55 minutes to Hartford.
Around 10am, anxiety reared its ugly head. I had never been to the Bushnell Performing Arts Center. Of everything in this world that can give me anxiety, parking in unknown places is very high on the list. Especially the idea of running late and having to find a parking spot. Living in the Chicago suburbs for 8 years and driving downtown for shows will do that to you. I checked my map app and sure enough, traffic already increased the drive time by 10 minutes.
My brain whirred with mental math — if it now takes 65 minutes to drive there and we stop and eat for half an hour that only gives us 25 minutes to find a parking spot and arrive in time for the show.
ONLY 25 MINUTES FOR AN ANXIOUS PARKER IS NOT ENOUGH TIME.
I’m now texting the parent that traffic is increasing drive time. I’m going to leave now. I get in the car and go!
Except as I turn off my street onto the next crossroad, I imagine traffic getting even worse. What if traffic is so bad we don’t have time to stop for lunch?
I turn around and drive back to the apartment to get snacks.  I text the parent so birthday kid brings snacks for herself  just in case! 
 
I have now lost all the extra time I had by leaving a little bit early. I also still have to get gas.
When birthday kid and I are finally on the road, the drive time is now back to the original 55 minutes and I’m feeling much calmer because I know we have snacks.
We arrive at the Bushnell a little after noon. All my parking anxiety is quickly assuaged because the free lot that I knew about from the Hartford Symphony website is diagonal from the venue and it’s not even a third of the way full. It’s quite literally an anxious parker’s dream come true.
I’m further thrilled to learn there’s a small café inside the Bushnell. I order birthday kid the sandwich they want and I forgo the café options for my snacks because I know I’ll enjoy it more than the lunch offerings. We sit outside and people watch as all manner of Harry Potter fans stream into the area. Some are wearing wizard’s robes. All four Hogwarts houses are represented.
Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been years since I’ve done anything like this outing. I thought I would enjoy the movie and delight in the novelty of hearing the orchestra play. Both of those did, in fact, happen!
But what I enjoyed the most, the thing that ignited my soul from pandemic darkness where I hadn’t even realized just how dark it was in there because I’ve adapted to it after these two long years, was the shared experience of laughter, cheers, boos, and tears.
Over one thousand people sat in the theater with us. All wore masks. But that didn’t prevent us from cheering at Harry’s triumphs, laughing at Ron’s infatuation with the Beaubaxtons students, or gasping at the return of Voldemort.
The tears for me came when Alan Rickman’s name scrolled across the screen during the closing credits. Other people around me also expressed grief at the loss of such an iconic actor.
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I had no idea I was missing this kind of shared experienced until I was in the thick of it. It makes me wonder what else the pandemic has taken from me that I don’t even realize.

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