Of course, as I realized afterwards, those three minutes sounded not nearly as awful as I imagined. I pronounced the words correctly, which counts for more than the tune. And I've learned to keep going no matter what, a tactic that masks a world of problems. I can separate the singing part of my body from the nervous part; my throat no longer closes up, my breathing remains strong, and I'm able make nice sounds even amidst all sorts of irrational inner turmoil. This gives the illusion that I'm in control when I really am not. People shook my hand and offered congratulations, and I know I gave a good performance. But I had fallen short of the mark. Whether I had been stricken with confusion in awe of the words themselves, or was simply overwhelmed by insecurity, I still believe I failed at the task of singing those lines in a manner befitting their importance and glory.
I want to chant with confidence so that I may fulfill both the spirit and letter of the honor to which I've been entrusted. I thought about approaching the rabbi with my questions, but what's he going to say? Relax, don't get nervous, chill. You'll be fine. And then he'll go back to the life and death issues from which I've just wasted his time. Nor do I want seem like a nervous wreck trying to curry compliments, which is how I sometimes feel. The next time I chant, I'll be more realistic and less full of myself, and read a shorter portion. If I'm at all worried, I'll ask the cantor if I can take a look at the scroll prior to Shabbat so I can see the words in their native form. I need to remember that my life is not about those three minutes, but what happens in all the spaces between--the rest of my actions and choices, upon which I will ultimately be judged.