"Come in" said the smiling face, one hand motioning me inside, the other holding the front door. "You're here for the meeting? Good, he's expecting you, please, come right inside." The answers seemed to follow the questions by themselves, I smile politely and step inside the house, not yet uttering a word.
It smells of cooking. Who knows what was being cooked: maybe a chicken, maybe a chulent, maybe one hundred other things or perhaps nothing at all. But all around, the house smelled of cooking, the sort that wafted through my house and a million other Jewish homes on Friday evenings. How was it that a Rabbi's house maintains that smell all week around? As I was lead into the study, I wondered whether it was because the cooking lingered on the walls, whether he would notice my Tzitzis hanging on my sides, what the weather was going to be like tomorrow, what the words the Rebbetzin was saying that I wasn't hearing, was my Kappel on or did I forget, where should I say that I davened this evening if I was asked, should I--
"Oh, I'm sorry," I reply, apologising for the day-dreaming. What was it she asked me? Probably something about a drink. "Thank you for offering," I smile "but I'm fine" - I could really use a drink, I think, as I sit in the chair she's pointing at. She'll be back in a moment and the study is cluttered, books everywhere, papers everywhere, especially papers, the desk the chairs the bookcases the floor the walls the ceiling, the cup by my side. "Thank you" I smile, picking it up, almost forgetting to make a brachca before drinking. I need to focus. I try and focus.
After a short wait, I hear a key going through a lock on the front door. It slides in, turns and slides out. The door closes with a bang and I know the Rabbi is home. Greetings occur.
The door opens and a bearded man, about as tall as me, older, wiser, walks in.
"Ah!" he says, as if seeing an old friend. "Who are you?" I tell him. "Of course, of course. Tell me" says he, sitting down in his chair "what are you doing now?" And so the pre-sparring begins. Each sizes the other up. I purposely fiddle with my tzitzis, he notices, watching my actions, assuming it's my nerves and not a plot to get him to believe I'm more of a Yid than I am.
"So" he says, "what's your question?"
I start small, questioning tiny spiritual matters, but quickly progress to the big picture. I don't say I don't believe it, but neither do I commit when he asks. An hour goes by.
I survive. I offer no proofs for atheism, that is not my aim, but I manage to rebut his answers. They are simple ones, the sort I've answered many times before to many different people. He appreciates the diversity of my answers, he notes that I merely challenged what he says, not what he believes.
I am given a book to read, to discuss until next we meet. He pledges to rebut my questions, when next we meet. I am dismissed. I am whole and complete, I am still me, not plunged into doubt about my choices from his words at all, I can leave with a smile. I have long made my peace with who I am and I trust I will find my place in time. I am happy with who I am.
If only everyone could be happy for me too.