The choir had to be in our seats at 9AM to open the service with "Ma tovu," "How goodly are your tents" and how great it is to be in this holy place even though we are not yet quite awake. Most synagogues can barely attract a minyan at 9AM, but at mine it's cool to arrive early, declassé to show up late or not pay attention. We are truly countercultural. We always had a pretty good crowd for the beginning of Shacharit, although I tended to arrive at 8:59, running up the stairs to the balcony like a crazy person and thankful my illustrious choir status let me bypass the long line at the front entrance and sneak in through the side door.
I love the Shacharit service and its warm-up of blessings and psalms to get us in the mood for everything yet to come. The world is still gathering itself together, the sunlight almost at its brightest but still calm and sleepy. Shacharit is always peaceful, even when the world is not, like on the Yom Kippur of 2001 when our prayers were drenched in fear and I refused to shut off my cell phone just in case we were attacked and I had to call the police. Shacharit reminded me that witnessing beauty was possible and even required in order to survive and remain sane in the face of hate.