I apologized to one of the rabbis as I left the bima; she laughed and said, it's OK! I went up to the other rabbi after services, the one who got me back on track. He looked me in the eye in a way that left not one millimeter of room for doubt, and said: do not worry at all. It's happened to me; it's OK. I was afraid I had caused a moment of extreme discomfort for everyone listening, but my friends assured me this wasn't the case. I considered the morning's d'var Torah, which spoke of making mistakes and how lucky we are to have a safe environment in which to do so. I felt better. (Until one well-meaning congregant took me aside and said, "That didn't seem like you up there." Thank you very much.)
I think my nerves have become a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than an honest response to the circumstances. I'm caught in a loop, afraid of making a mistake and then working myself into such an irrational state of anticipation that I become verklempt the minute I step up to the bima. I have this problem only when reading Torah; haftarah and Megillat Esther (which is far longer, and also read on Purim from a scroll devoid of notes and vowels) worry me hardly at all. I am fully present and filled with joy whenever I lead services.
This morning the letters on the scroll seemed too crisp, angular, even harsh. The graphic designer in me was bothered by their wide squarishness compared to the tight little characters of the old scroll, and their extreme contrast to the whiteness of the parchment. I missed the old tan background, and letters that looked like footprints in sand. These ones seemed like stamping feet, insisting I go forward even when I lost my direction. I wanted them to take my hand, instead, and lead me like when I chanted in Jerusalem in the shadow of the Wall. I should have relaxed and trusted the scroll, but felt like I didn't know it well enough yet.
I realized afterwards that the scroll was just being a mirror, which is its purpose. On Shavuot we're asked to find ourselves in the new Torah and that, in my most naked state at the bima, is exactly what I saw. Usually I'm certain my nerves are just stage fright, but sometimes the mystical answers I still resist seem to gain credence. The Torah is a magnet, pulling onto its parchment surface all the messy detritus of life, which for me this week was full of stress, promises broken, bonds weakened, and some good stuff, too. The word I stumbled on, whose letters looked unfamiliar until the rabbi underlined them for me, was kadosh, holiness. Maybe, suggested a friend, there was a reason God made me stop at this particular point. I wish I knew. Today, a day later, I feel like the experience shocked me awake, and that I'm finally ready for the new scroll promised by Shavuot and my name.
As of this morning, onchanting has been visited exactly 4,000 times over the past year, a large and possibly auspicious number (100 times 40, the number of years we wandered in the desert; 40 is also the age after which you're traditionally allowed to study Kaballah), or maybe it means nothing at all. Still, a lot of visits. Thank you for reading, whoever you are, and also to those who found me by typing "chanting" in Google, as well as the 11(!) who hung around after searching for "Sun Breeze oil." I'm also grateful to others who got here via searches for "zen tin-foil hat," "zinc and nyquil," "swollen vocal cords clergy" (I hope you're feeling better), and "to get money by chanting only" (I hope you did). Not to mention "high end prefab shower stall wall," "goldfish," and "god, am I really a bad person?" (no!). Thank you all.