Welcome to 5766, so far a little more interesting than planned. But life does that sometimes.
I've been trying to shake an annoying cold and yesterday, finally, it seemed to be on its last legs. I led Shaharit for the first day of Rosh Hashonah in the company of two rabbis, the three of us shoulder to shoulder at the bima. Morning light streamed in from the open back doors as we sang, turning the grey stone walls white as people slowly filled the church. My head was congested, and I had to focus all my energies on my voice and breath in order to produce a decent sound. I realized, when I tried to recall the experience afterwards, that I was barely aware of my surroundings, oblivious to everything except the machzor and musicians, whose cues were steadier than steel even as their rhythms and tempi changed with the emotions of the crowd. I wasn't nervous at all; I almost forgot where I was. All I thought about was singing and praying.
After my part ended I joined friends in the first row, a pretty intense place to sit when in a state somewhere between dreaming and hyperawareness. I tried to envision my plan for the coming year but the prayers and music, so loud and close, kept taking me to those weeks of uncertainty before my surgery in April when I thought I might not be OK. (I am, completely.) That apprehension left its mark, an ever-present sense in the back of my mind of the transient nature of joy and despair and an urgency to enjoy all their gifts, both good and bad. But with that, as well, a fear of stepping too far off the cliff. As the Unetane Tokef told of fates too awful to contemplate, I found myself praying just one thing: thank God I'm alive and healthy. Everything else--who I'm supposed to be in this life, how I can do my part in the world--seemed, at that moment, easy in comparison.
My niece and I joined some friends after services for bagels and lox and then headed over to the park for tashlikh, R. journeying in from her dad's synagogue in Queens to join us. Once again I ran into every single person I knew, this time including my newly-married, newly-Orthodox first cousin once removed on my mother's side. I introduced him to my niece, related on my father's side, an historic occasion: it's been twenty or thirty years since relatives from different sides of my family met each other, let alone were able to talk without yelling. Meanwhile I sat exhausted on a park bench with my cousin's pregnant wife as friends stopped by to say hello. Many of them had heard me sing that morning, and offered gracious compliments. My cousin's wife was intrigued, and asked lots of questions; her world doesn't include women who lead services. Then she told me she felt like she was sitting next to a rock star, what with so many people coming over to shake my hand. It's one thing for me to pretend I'm a rock star, but someone else saying it is kind of funny, and very cool.