Last night the rabbi reminded us that our souls were probably very tired from all this recent work of teshuvah. Shabbat Shuva, today, was a good time to let them rest. This morning he emphasized that teshuvah was about looking ahead, advancing beyond rather than dwelling upon our past weaknesses and errors of judgment. His words were of great comfort, and also had the same effect on me as Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in "Moonstruck:" "Snap out of it!"
There's value in feeling small every once in awhile. Following too vigilantly the words of Nelson Mandela that hang on my wall--"You playing small doesn't serve the world"--can sometimes backfire. "And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Leading services last year freed me in some intangible way, taught me how to communicate from a place I didn't even know I could access, but which others immediately understood. That response was intoxicating and, like any other drunken fool, my ego and judgment were distorted as a result. I've spent the past year in this blog and elsewhere trying to decipher that experience within the context of my life, but in truth a selfish little part of me, a part for which I need to do teshuvah, has just been waiting all these months for another chance to feel that rush. When I couldn't sing, I immediately mourned its certain absence and assumed, just as an anorexic looks in the mirror and sees a fat person, that the sounds coming out of my mouth would destroy the prayers I was supposed to enhance. The less I could sing, the more I became shrunken by the demands of my ego.
But today, after taking the rabbi's advice and letting my soul rest for a few hours, I began to understand that being small, painful as it was, created a very necessary wider space around me. Maybe God abhors a vacuum. I felt small, but never alone. The force of my panic was countered by the calm strength of the rabbi, the unwavering focus of my friends in the first row, the electricity of anticipation from people filling the church. And the band, always pushing gently to keep me aloft. In all that was God, making it possible for me to continue. It's what everyone meant, moments earlier, when they said I'd be fine. Maybe if I had been larger, there wouldn't have been room for all this energy.
Although I still don't quite believe them, and am embarrassed both by my doubts and my need to hear the words, many people told me I sounded lovely, if a bit muted. I emailed the rabbi and cantor with apologies and they said there was no need, and other things that astonished me, as always, by their grace and humility. I would be very sad if not asked to do this again, but also much wiser. The gift would keep on giving. Today, having slept and eaten, and passed people on the street who do not have that luxury, I'm reminded that this was just Shaharit, for heaven's sake, not even Kol Nidre, and just one uncomfortable hour out of my very comfortable life. I think my overwrought reaction was a warning: it's not really a nightmare, said God, but just a drill. You haven't let down people you love, or gotten stuck in the delirium of jealousy and self-worship, but this is what it might feel like if you did. Now that you know, maybe you won't have to do teshuvah for these things next year.
God always seems to provide a learning opportunity just when we're most full of ourselves and think we know everything. It makes me scared of the insights that Yom Kippur might bring.