Afterwards, I thought about my "one song" and knew immediately that it would be from the High Holy Day or Shabbat liturgy, one of the melodies already etched into my brain and bones. I wouldn't understand the meaning of every word in my song, as is the case with most of the prayers I've led, but I think the audience would still trust in my attempt at honesty. The sounds themselves would fill in the gaps.
And that, perhaps, is also why I sometimes feel like an imposter in front of my congregation. I am singing on their behalf, but also for my own life. When I can't grasp the full intent of these prayers, I replace the blank lines with myself. Is it sufficient to speak in my own private language and be glad that other people, somehow, understand? The rabbis trust me to get it right, but I could miss the point entirely and not know it. It feels very self-indulgent. And I can never learn enough of what I'm supposed to know, no matter how much I try--this is, after all, just one small part of my story, a gift given to me by the rabbis and congregation of an hour or two every month or so in between the rest of my life. Sometimes those few moments are like fuel for all the hours that remain. Will I ever be able to repay the favor to those who listen, without whose support and voices I could not sing at all?
I remind myself that the rabbis also struggle, in ways I can't know. One of them calls prayer "holy chutzpah"--how dare we address God at all! But we persist because prayer, as Heschel wrote, is our only possible response to the amazement of living. I don't understand why it gives me strength; I'm afraid that one day it will stop, as suddenly as it began. The world will seem hollow, and I'll no longer be able to stand in front of everyone and wait for their energy and joy to become my own.
I worry too much. Tonight the rabbi spoke about this week's parasha, Chayyei Sarah, in which Jacob and Ishmael come together to bury their father Isaac. They are not the best of friends, but the Torah speaks of no strife or debate; they simply, with grace and compassion, do what's needed. Sometimes, the rabbi observed, we just have to say baruch HaShem, thank God for what we have and where we are, and live. There's a time for high drama, and a time to get on with it.
Maybe there isn't "one song" for any of us, just as there isn't one Torah--it changes as we do, and we need to accept each new melody and just get on with it. My life and language are fluid; whatever sound comes out, good or bad, stumbling or confident, will be valid. The people who listen to me already know this. I need to trust and believe them.