I helped lead services again last night, for--I can scarcely believe it--the 15th time. ("Three more to chai!" observed a friend.) For the first time since my vocal cords gave up last Rosh Hashonah and I was so grateful for his voice, I was privileged to be up front with the drumming, singing rabbi. I sat between him and another drummer, like a stethoscope to the heartbeat of God.
In some ways I'm more confident than ever before. I make no tentative sounds, even when the pitch is too high (this rabbi is a tenor) and I fear being confused with a squeaking mouse. My heart is naked in front of hundreds of people. At times I lose myself, floating in music, and have to remember to stay anchored by at least one small thread or I'll forget to turn the page. These days I'm less aware of the support of the congregation, maybe because I'm strong enough to let go of their hands and fly.
But in other ways I'm a tentative, trembling mass of insecurity that seems to get bigger over time, like the massive ball of rubber bands on the desk of a bored colleague. What right do I have to be at the bimah? What do I know, compared to the brilliant rabbi and world-class musicians whose space I share? How can I possibly deserve the honor? And why, after a year and a half of being entrusted with this task, do I still need to ask these questions? But I wonder if my friends are humoring me when they say I sound good, and hate myself for doubting their sincerity, needing anyone's praise, or imagining that my particular issues are at all important to the larger scheme of things. If I make a mistake--pause, squeak, sing too loud and think I've overstepped some unnamed bound--I fear I will be unmasked. I'm not even sure what costume I wear, or when I first put it on. Perhaps I'm really myself up there and--a scarier prospect--the rest of what I do is pretense.
Either way, I'm extraordinarily happy and very confused. It reminds me of the times I've fallen in love, and the paralyzing fear that faith in so much goodness will lead to heartbreak. The only answer then, as now, is to remain vulnerable, because the goodness might retreat in face of a closed door.