The thing about a year is that it only gives you one try at every day. It only allows the holidays to be celebrated once and the months to be prized for their unique variance. The knowledge of the year’s limitations contrasts the strength in serving as a foundation for another year. There is this sense of purpose for him standing alone, for accomplishing something within that time frame, and for appreciating his existence in the grand scheme of history.

Trying to pay attention to the Hebrew geology lesson, my groggy eyes wander to my watch and notice the date. I’m in the middle of my 3 week extensive course for tour guiding in schools when I realize that today is my Aliyah anniversary. My mind races back to exactly a year ago, landing in Tel Aviv and meeting my friends at the airport for the welcome ceremony. I watch my mental movie play out and it feels like someone else’s story. It’s just so long ago. It’s just so different now. I look at her naivety and her impossible goals and shift in my seat, uncomfortable feeling so distant from who I was before starting this journey. I try to force myself back to absorbing the information for my course, knowing that these three weeks are giving me the basis for my next year of National Service. Unsuccessfully, my English speaking daydream allures my attention.

My first week of National Service at Aleh Negev presents itself on the screen. The silent film plays as I stare at the world I am entering. The world of the disabled. The faces and behavior that raises questions of humanity finds me squeamishly guilty. Determined to stride in optimism, I squeeze my commitment to succeeding in my new life here. I swallow my wish for a challenging year and repeat affirmations of finding beauty in the process. Soon enough a smile from a resident of a very low functioning house grabs hold of my mental games. Maybe I don’t love this place now, but I believe that I will in the end.

I am here in this year. I am speaking in Hebrew conversations differently than I did a month ago. I am now understanding jokes on occasion. I form deep friendships with my sisters here. I dance with my sons and daughters. I witness some of their first steps. I listen to first words and improvement in independence. This is the champion of respecting time. This is honoring the moment and cheering on the future.

By joining the world of this veiled population, I now realize that it’s me in fact that learns the grand lessons of humanity from these brilliant individuals. I am here because when I hold them tight, I am embracing their love. When I take them for a walk, they take me on a journey to appreciate every step that my blessed legs can tread. In this mutual friendship, I see our places in the spectrum of diversity as a gift and celebrate the growth in abilities that Aleh Negev brings about in us. Everyone in this village improves in one way or another. We invest in attaining movement because we recognize that progress is never easy.

I take a peek at the photos on my phone of my Aleh Negev family. A part of me is forever there; laying out on the lawn, petting the horses, diving into the pool, stretching out in the winds of the Negev. Aleh Negev is eternally with me in whatever steps I take. Elan will be with me, giving me trouble. Being opinionated is the real test of intelligence. I will think of Meny and Rachmah’s unstoppable hugs and excitement, their sensitivity to the world, and love that they have blessed me with. Inbal and Shachaff and their glorious smiles are inspiring me to crack a grin. Smile for the sake of the capacity and for the celebration for it’s basis of the language of humanity. It’s all with me in my memories, in my life ideology and dangling on my wrist as I jot down notes about the magically complicated system of cells growing from the power of the sun. I am here because I was there. I am a year later even though it feels like a lifetime later. I step forward in merit of the strides behind me, waving hello to the fresh demands waiting to greet me in my second year of national service- Shelach.