(Interrupting Simchat Torah, once again.)
Outside my window right now is nothing: fog, a wall of white wrapped around my building. New York City could be gone, tohu vavohu ("without form and empty," Gen. 1:2), for all I know. But I'm not worried, since I'm connecting wirelessly to the Internet; technology is playing the role of Noah's dove. The three aliyot I chanted yesterday came right after that part: "And God spoke to Noah, saying "Leave the Ark..." I had practiced it a million times, but it hadn't really "set" (see Jello-O analogy, below), wasn't yet ready to withstand the assault of my nerves. Most of the time I'm able to choose, consciously or unconsciously, to remain calm when I chant Torah, and can channel anticipation and excitement into the energy of concentration. But on Shabbat morning, impeded by a mix of insecurity and awe at the words I would be reading, I could not. I walked up the bima shaking, in a cold sweat. I gave myself a pep talk: hey, you've led High Holy Day services! You've even led them without a voice, and were OK! So of course you can read three paragraphs in front of all these people. Get over it.
I didn't. The first aliyah went fine. The rabbi whispered "Beautiful!" when I finished, which only made me more nervous. I stumbled a little in the second aliyah and began to dread the third, the most difficult of the bunch. I looked at its first line and couldn't remember the trop, which I had sung in my sleep the night before. I took a deep breath and everything came back, but then my eyes began to play tricks; even with the yad leading my way, I was unable to find the beginning of the next line once I ended the previous one. The line breaks, as usual, were different from my tikkun, the words in unfamiliar places, which suddenly seemed very confusing. I felt myself slipping into panic, and continued to lose the trop. Both rabbis, one on each side of the bima, started singing softly--wonderful, except they used slightly different melodies, and so I couldn't discern either. I continued, finding landmarks on the road, big signs that said: "Familiar word! Familiar tune! Go!" So I did, presaging Lekh Lekha, next week's parasha. By the time I reached the end, I was racing to leave this land I no longer liked very much.