With the help of online stores and a trip to to Boston, where people dress in colors, I exceeded the narrow limits of my disposable income and bought a Flax skirt and pants and a purple silk blouse that I would wear on Rosh Hashonah with, gratefully, a black skirt. I also found a pair of cool hemp clogs and some white canvas sandals. Then I discovered a couple of pre-Labor Day sales, and soon owned far too many items of white clothing than were necessary for just one day. But I kept hearing a little voice, sounding suspiciously like my mother's, reminding me that you never know, and better safe than sorry. What this really meant I had no idea, but was driven to oversupply with the same compulsion that had led my mother to pack twelve extra sweaters every time we left the house.
I had another rehearsal with the cantor's brother, joined this time by the rest of the band. I loved the delicately insistent sound of the oud as it voiced the chords preceding each chatima (the last lines of the prayer, the "seal," that I would sing alone).
The following Shabbat, after another rowing machine session of deep breathing, I helped lead morning services for the second time. Pavlov was right; I started shaking the minute I walked into the Secret Rabbi Room, even though the rational part of my brain kept telling me I would do just fine. The rabbi, a different one than the first time, still hadn't arrived by 9:29 for the 9:30 service, but I now knew to trust the calendar. It really was Saturday morning, and--I was almost afraid to admit--everything would be OK. The cantor walked in and asked about my Torah reading the week before, when he was away on vacation. I could barely remember; chanting suddenly seemed so much easier in comparison. "Well," he said, "you can do the whole thing if they don't show up, right?" I didn't find this joke terribly funny.
The rabbi did arrive, of course, with an entire 45 seconds to spare. As before, I could feel energy like a strong gust of wind radiating from his side of the bima. It almost knocked me over, as if God had stopped by to give me a bear hug. I remembered to breathe, mostly, and we traded verses and sang harmonies. I even took the initiative and started a few prayers. It was enormous fun.
Afterwards the rabbi sent me an email filled with exclamation points, telling me how great I did. I knew I wasn't really that superb, but it was a very, very much appreciated exaggeration.