I finally walked over to the railing and threw bread into the water, this year crumbs of relief and gratitude. The sun turned pink and orange over the Hudson River as the crowd began to thin, heading to various evening services or back home to try and eat dinner on top of too heavy, too late lunches. After a pleasantly brief service at my synagogue, R., my niece and I went to a diner. (The company of family and friends always trumps halakha [the rules] for me.) I was starting to fall asleep in my bowl of soup, so I left before dessert and got right into bed. But some sort of alarm--a clock next door? a parked car twelve stories below?--decided to sound for hours and hours, BEEP-beep, BEEP-beep, keeping me awake until I finally sank into fitful dreams at around 1AM.
I woke up at 5:30, a half hour before the alarm, and tried to sing. I could not. It wasn't the muteness of congestion, which I defeated last Yom Kippur with the help of many drugs, but the immutable silence of swollen vocal cords. Immediately I thought: I'm screwed. I knew there were better uses for my energy than panic, but it wasn't easy. I wanted to bang my head into a wall for staying out so late. I wanted God to explain, immediately, why this needed to happen two years in a row.
I tried all the techniques that worked last September: vocalizing very slowly over two hours, inhaling steam, downing cups of hot tea, standing under the shower for many minutes with warm water pounding my back. I managed to reclaim some notes on top and down below, but my entire middle range, where most of the chatimot, the phrases that conclude each prayer, were set, was entirely gone. At around 7AM I gave up on the top and bottom, and concentrated instead on the notes between the A below middle C and the G above. I tried to visualize rubber bands stretching very slowly... come on, vocal cords, you can do it. By 8 I could sing the chatimot and, oddly, the really high parts, but little else. For a few seconds here and there I had all the notes, but they were slippery and elusive, like trying to catch fish with bare hands.
I got to the church at 8:30 and continued to warm up. I let the musicians know they might have to be quieter than usual. "Don't worry!" they said. "You'll be fine." The first rabbi arrived, and saw how nervous I was. She took my hands and offered a prayer: that I would sing with my heart and soul, and know that my voice would follow. "Don't worry!" she said. "You'll be fine." The other rabbi arrived, the one with the beautiful voice, with whom I'd be leading. I asked him to cover for me, particularly on the Ashrei and Kedushah sections. "Don't worry!" he said, in words serene and strong enough to stop wars. "You'll be fine."
When we walked out of the little room at 9, I had no idea if sounds would come out of my mouth. But I was filled with wishes of love and support, and had no choice than to believe I would be anything other than fine.